Milton Cohen: St. Urbain’s war poet

Discovery of father’s World War II poems sparks search for lost sisters

By Robert Frank
www.thesuburban.com

Judie Benjamin hopes that her late father Milton Cohen’s newfound fame as a Canadian war bard will help her to find sisters whom she has never met.

The St. Laurent resident said that she was so unnerved when the Globe and Mail unexpectedly published some of her father’s poems in November, that she “cried off-and-on for days.”

“I felt like I had found my soul again. It really affected me very much.”

Ms. Benjamin said that—until they were published—she knew nothing of the poems, which have helped her to understand and come to terms with her father, from whom she was estranged for most of her life.

She recalled that the Canadian Army veteran was never the same after the war, where he fought his way north through Italy, then liberated a concentration camp and was hospitalized for months with a badly shattered leg, after his jeep was blown up.

Globe and Mail reporter Adrian Morrow, who wrote the Remembrance Day article, described the long-buried verse contained in evocative letters to Baron Byng High School friend Sam Borer.

“It’s intriguing how he had this high seriousness mixed with the sense of humour that he brought with him from Montreal,” said Mr. Morrow. “He clearly had trouble coping with his experiences in the war and his temper. But, at the same time, he retained the humanity that he had before the war and during the war that never really left.

“My father returned from the war a tortured man, and my parents’ marriage didn’t survive for long afterward,” Ms. Benjamin explained. She observed that his volatile personality was the product of what today would be called post-traumatic stress disorder.

“He married at least two other times and I have siblings whom I know nothing about,” she continued. She said that one of his brides was former Ice Capades skater Elsie Palmer, and another might have been named Norma Bernstein.

The publication of her father’s poems has helped to heal her loss she says, “I’m a much happier person.” She is deeply grateful to the Borer family for releasing her late father’s missives and now hopes that the national publicity will lead her to her lost sisters.

“I understand that he had at least two other children, possibly in the early 1950s with a woman named Norma Bernstein. However, I don’t know what their names are or where they live, other than that one was evidently a musician who lived in Chateauguay, Quebec, during the mid-1990s. 

One might have been named Diana or Dinah or Diane or something similar. It is also possible that he had a third child.”

Milton Cohen passed away in Burnaby, British Columbia, in 2000.

Note: The Suburban reporter Robert Frank is Judie Benjamin’s step-brother. Their grandfather, Samuel Cohen (no relation to Milton) was also traumatized and abandoned his wife and eight children to abject poverty several years after being gassed while serving in the trenches during World War I. 

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