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38 Remembering Otto Kaufman

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If you ride by or visit the Otto Kaufman Community Center on Skillman Road in Skillman, you may wonder just who Otto Kaufman was. There is a display of pictures and newspaper clippings about him in the community center, but there is much more to the Otto Kaufman story. This blog shares the details of a man whose life went from great adversity to public service.


From Nazi Germany to America

Otto Kaufman came from humble beginnings as a young Jewish man in Germany. He grew up in Luxheim, near Bonn, as Hitler and Nazism were on the rise, and Jews were being persecuted. As a teenager, Otto learned first-hand what tyranny was like as the Nazi’s took over his homeland. He was removed from his soccer team and expelled from the gymnasium (his high school) because he was Jewish.


Otto’s mother died when he was young. As Hitler’s atrocities increased, Otto’s father felt that he was safe in Germany because he was old. He didn’t feel the same way about his children’s safety, so he encouraged Otto and his brother Ernest, who was ten years older, to leave Germany for a better, safer life. Otto initially thought he might go to South America, but his cousins, the Schweitzers, had a better idea. They had already emigrated to America with their wives. They bought a small farm in Montgomery Township and wanted Otto and Ernest to join them there.


At that time, you couldn’t just come to America. Immigrants needed a sponsor who would fill out an affidavit to assure that refugees would be cared for in their new land. The Schweitzers completed the affidavit, and in 1937, Otto and Ernest Kaufman, along with Ernest’s wife Adele, departed the only country they had ever known, leaving their family to an unknown fate. Otto was just 17 at the time, and he arrived with just eight dollars in his pocket.


Things went from bad to worse in Germany, and Otto wanted to bring his father to America. But before that could happen, his father, his father’s two brothers, and their families were executed in concentration camps. It was a devastating time for Otto in his new land. Eventually, Otto’s brother Fritz, his sister Carolina, and their spouses fled Germany and settled in Philadelphia.


Learning to Farm

Otto and Ernest purchased a farm on Hollow Road from the Schweitzers, and neither the Schweitzers nor the Kaufman brothers knew much about farming. To make matters worse, Otto and Ernest had no money to buy the farm from the Schweitzers, but they managed to get a loan from the Jewish Agricultural Society with very little equity. They suddenly found themselves owning a dilapidated farm that they didn’t know how to run. There was a 14-room farmhouse on the property, but it was not in good shape. There was no heat or plumbing, and the toilet area was a “three-seater” outhouse. The farm came with 14 cows, but seven of them had tuberculosis and had to be destroyed. Buying this farm was no easy undertaking, but these two refugees were the proud owners of Kaufman Dairy and Poultry Farm. The farm remained in joint ownership until Ernest passed away in 1977.