LUMBERTON, N.J. (CBS) – 96-year-old Ernest Kaufman from Lumberton New Jersey has a life story that could rival any Oscar-winning script.
Like many Holocaust survivors, the Nazis ripped him away from his Jewish family shortly after Kristallnacht and sent him to a horror-filled concentration camp.
“They stuck a man in a barrel filled with nails sticking in it and rolled him down a hill and then the dogs finished him off,” he recalls.
At that point, during Nazi rule, Jews were still allowed to leave Germany and with the help of a New York couple, he was released from the concentration camp and moved to America where he later joined the U.S. Army.
“I said look I’m fluent in German and have a working knowledge of French so I think I can be of use,” explains Kaufman on how he went from infantry to military intelligence.
Kaufman returned to the country he fled to help take down the Nazi regime that murdered his parents and killed millions of his fellow Jews.
Among his many accomplishments: preventing thousands of troops from a would-be ambush at a river dam and later convincing a German general to turn over a small city, sparing hundreds of lives.
“He said I have decided to accompany you to your barracks along with my troops,” says Kaufman.
He reflects on the contrast between that moment riding in the front seat of a German officer’s Mercedes as he lead 300 hundred soldiers to surrender, and the earlier moment when he was hit with the butt of an SS officer’s gun as he exited a train car at the concentration camp.
Kaufman advanced to the rank of major during his nine years of military service, along the way taking a bullet to the chest and adding a Purple Heart to his Bronze Star.
To hear more of Kaufman’s story he’s speaking Saturday at 1:00 p.m., at the Burlington County Lyceum on High Street in Mount Holly.