A Standing Ovation to Donna Mayer Volunteer Extraordinaire

On August 30th we honored Donna Mayer- the face of The Selfhelp Home Gift Shop, a role she enjoyed for the last seven years.  An Avid traveler and “networker”, Donna finds treasures wherever she goes and loves fining things that people are happy to buy. “I love the people here, Donna Mayer says, and I respect what many residents have gone through in their lives.” When Donna is around, a crowd gathers, chatting, laughing, trying on scarves and trinkets, exchanging the news of the day. Donna’s dedication to the Selfhelp community is worthy of a Standing Ovation.

View the Gallery of Photos from the Event

Remarks from Austin Hirsch, Board President at the event on August 17.

Donna has created and made our Gift Shop a social opportunity for our Residents and their families to engage.  Beth and I have had the pleasure of purchasing special little gifts and having Donna makes these positive experiences.  On a personal note, my Father of blessed memory, owned a retail store and, the many lessons that he taught me about customer service is exactly the way Donna relates to those Residents and Family Members browsing or purchasing at the Gift Shop.

Donna’s devotion to The Selfhelp Home is a thing of beauty. Many years ago, before she ran the gift shop, she would run errands for the residents, running back and forth to get them the things they needed. She got to know to know a lot of people that way and she was very interested in the stories of the residents. About seven or eight years ago, Donna started running the gift shop. Items came from around the world—Donna would pick them up in her travels with Selfhelp residents and families in mind, and bring them back to Chicago to sell at Selfhelp— lovely things at good prices! Donna also has a wide network of friends and acquaintances in the fashion business who are all too happy to donate some really great items that make our gift shop unique. And, of course, there are the personal family ties, family members who have lived here, including Donna’s husband’s sister, Marion.      

Watching Donna interact with residents reveals just how special she is to them and they to her. Our community gravitates to Donna and when she is present, the Gift Shop is the hub of activity.  

We at Selfhelp know that Donna is very special, and many people came here tonight to celebrate Donna. Thank you all for the donations you have made in her honor. Thank you for your phone calls and emails telling us how deserving Donna is of this recognition. Donna has many very good friends.

In addition to being a savvy shopper, Donna is a master baker. She is devoted to her husband Larry, with whom she shares a love of life and travel. Indeed, Larry is a fortunate person.  Also, Donna’s humanitarian spirit reveals itself in her work with low-income girls can go to their proms in style.  

Thank you, Donna, for all you do to make our home special and to make our Selfhelp Home special and to make the world a better place. You are a friend and part of the fabric of Selfhelp.  If you and Larry could please come up; we have a gift of appreciation.    


by Selfhelp Resident, Les Mitnick

We change as our priorities and needs change. Speaking only for myself, I can emphatically state that in my twenties, thirties, and forties (and even my fifties!), I never gave much thought to what my needs would be in my seventies. However, I’ve always been a “planner”, and I was taught relatively early in life to make decisive decisions.

My decision to make my home here at Selfhelp was based on my personal “time clock”. I pondered the future while still living in the present. I had the good fortune of being able to give bi-monthly musical programs at Self Help since 2010 (while I was in my middle sixties) and was gratified by the enthusiasm of the residents. Moreover, I found the atmosphere here at Selfhelp to be extremely warm, cordial, and wonderfully evergreen and friendly. I found myself establishing a beautiful rapport with many of the residents, all of whom embraced me with enthusiasm.

As the years passed, I began to think of Selfhelp as a home for me when I felt the time would come. I had the opportunity to see a variety of apartments at Selfhelp, and soon realized that any number of them would suit my needs perfectly — and so I began to work towards the fruition of my plan to make my “big move” and to become a permanent resident here at Selfhelp.

Now that my moving experience is behind me, I am thrilled to say that I feel settled, secure, and strangely enough, I’ve not looked back. I enjoy the feeling of community here as well as the sense of “family”. I cherish the associations and friendships I’ve made here and I feel exhilarated by the “extras” offered as well — the theatrical films, the frequent live concerts and recitals, the lectures, etc. I’ve found that dining at a table with cordial people adds a most important component of life that few should live without: the act of socialization.

And so I’ve begun another journey in this odyssey which we can call life. I’ve always said that virtually everyone has sufficient life resources to write their autobiography. Plainly, residing here at the Selfhelp Home can augment that autobiography.

Life-Changing Care at The Selfhelp Home

Not only has resident Jeffrey Korman touched almost every part of The Selfhelp Home and its levels of care, but The Selfhelp Home has also touched him.

In 2017, at the age of 62, Korman suffered three strokes several months apart. During that frightening time, he was in and out of the hospital and rehab, sometimes having frustrating experiences with healthcare. After the third stroke, he was not in good shape. “I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t swallow. I was being tube fed, and I had no idea what was going on,” Korman says.

He needed good rehab care. So Korman’s sister in Boston set out to research properties and saw that U.S. News & World Report had ranked The Selfhelp Home as a top-performing rehab and skilled nursing facility.

Korman was disoriented when he entered Selfhelp. But even then, he could tell that it was a different kind of place, a caring place, he says.. Under the care of the sixth-floor skilled nursing and rehab team, he began to improve.

Being only 62, Korman was in good shape before the strokes. Young, and active, it was important for him to get back to functioning quickly.

“I say that I’m the first person to come in here horizontal and leave vertical,” he jokes.

Yet, it was hard. Even seemingly simple tasks like swallowing or maintaining his balance were tough. “All these things our body does are really complicated. Standing and swallowing seem so basic, and I couldn’t do either,” Korman says.

Depressed, he remembered what a friend told him: “Just when you’re depressed that you lost the ability to do something, be positive because you’re really close to finding your way through the door.”

After that mystical moment, Korman began to keep his balance for a second or two, and then longer. He became well enough to start doing physical, occupational and speech therapy. And, again, he felt the caring Selfhelp difference.

Talk to Korman and he’ll start rattling off the names of the people who helped him at various points along his path – Justin, Chorda, Eric, Paul, Jody, Emily, Bridget, Megan, Benna, Laura, Liza, Sofie, Bernard, Kalvin – and he’ll circle back several times to add the names of others. The staff helped him to regain his functioning after the series of strokes.

“At some point, I said that I didn’t want to be good for 62 or good for a stroke victim, so they pushed me,” he says. “I guess it might be routine for them, but to me it was extraordinary. Every single person knew what they were doing. All across the board, the sixth floor [skilled nursing] was good as it could be. I felt everybody cheering me on.”

After close to 2 months in skilled nursing, Korman was getting better and it was time for him to move on. When he suffered his three strokes, he was moving into an apartment with two of his adult children. But that was no longer an option, and he had nowhere to go, with no furnishings readily available.

So the staff involved in his care came up with an idea: The Selfhelp Home set up a furnished apartment specifically for Korman’s needs, with a hybrid of independent living and some transitional care.

Korman thrived and, now back in good shape, gave back to the community, using his technology background to consult on the building’s new wifi system and starting a Scrabble night on Tuesdays.

He took the opportunity to really appreciate Selfhelp’s unique culture. Korman was touched by the stories of fellow residents, especially the stories of Holocaust survivors. He soaked up their life experiences, learning from their philosophy of surviving and thriving. And he was the recipient of what he calls “the real loving care of the residents who saw me have an adventure getting to the dinner table when I was first here.”

Having the strokes – a “slap in the face about my mortality” — and meeting the other residents made Korman realize what he takes for granted in his everyday life.

“You would never have a stroke on purpose, but to have a stop at 62-63 years old and hear the story of 90-year-olds and what their life’s been, fleeing Austria and then going to South America and finding their way to Chicago,” he says. “You hear the stories of everybody here — what an education and perspective on life, our path and spirituality.”

While usually people increase their level of care at senior facilities (independent living to assisted living to skilled nursing), Korman was doing it in reverse, moving from skilled nursing down to independent living.

“I think I was like Frankenstein at the beginning, and now people are afraid because I almost knock them over,” he says.

But now at 63 years old, he wasn’t ready for retirement living – not yet. So in July he was given the all-clear to be on his own. Korman bought a condo in Evanston and made arrangements to leave Selfhelp and go back part-time to his former computer systems job.

Overall, Korman is grateful for the healing and support he received at The Selfhelp Home, both from the caring staff and from the loving residents.

“Like I said, who would’ve purposefully had this experience?” he says. “But my recovery, the support in my recovery and just living here has just changed my life. I’m changed for having been here, even if I had no health problem.”

“You would never have a stroke on purpose, but to have a stop at 62-63 years old and hear the story of 90-year-olds and what their life’s been, fleeing Austria and then going to South America and finding their way to Chicago,” he says. “You hear the stories of everybody here — what an education and perspective on life, our path and spirituality.”

While usually people increase their level of care at senior facilities (independent living to assisted living to skilled nursing), Korman was doing it in reverse, moving from skilled nursing down to independent living.

“I think I was like Frankenstein at the beginning, and now people are afraid because I almost knock them over,” he says.

But now at 63 years old, he wasn’t ready for retirement living – not yet. So in July he was given the all-clear to be on his own. Korman bought a condo in Evanston and made arrangements to leave Selfhelp and go back part-time to his former computer systems job.

Overall, Korman is grateful for the healing and support he received at The Selfhelp Home, both from the caring staff and from the loving residents.

“Like I said, who would’ve purposefully had this experience?” he says. “But my recovery, the support in my recovery and just living here has just changed my life. I’m changed for having been here, even if I had no health problem.”



Keep, Toss or Donate? 5 Ways to Start Decluttering Before You Move

Even the best senior living communities offer smaller apartments than the homes or apartments most seniors are used to living in. This often means people must downsize and declutter before they move in. Certainly not a chore that anyone really relishes, but the end result can be life enriching.  Most of us accumulate a lot of “stuff” during our lives, and for an elderly person, the process of deciding what should go and what should stay can be daunting.

However, if we approach the process with a positive attitude, the act of sorting through our things and giving away possessions can also bring a sense of calm and freedom from the things that bind us to our current situation.  In fact, Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant wrote a book about it called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Kondo’s book takes a straight approach to tidying…put your hands on everything you own, ask yourself if it sparks joy, and if it doesn’t, thank it for its service and get rid of it.

Sounds simple, but it takes time and having a family member or close friend help with the sorting process may make the process easier or at least more enjoyable. If you don’t have someone close by to help out, you may want to consider hiring a senior moving expert, relocation specialist or organizer to help with the process. Fees vary across the country and a real estate agent may be a good referral source or ask for recommendations from friends, seniors’ residences or senior centers.

The moving expert can help with:

  • sorting and decision-making
  • packing
  • arranging the move
  • arranging for charity pick up, garage sale, estate sale or working with consignment shops
  • unpacking boxes and arranging your new home

If there is time, and your move is down the road, think about starting the decluttering process six months or more ahead of time.  Here are 5  ways to get started today:

  1. Get rid of the junk – Shred old documents, toss, or give away clothes or household items that are no longer being used or needed. In other words, start with the easy stuff first.  Leave the mementos and prized possessions for later.
  2. Make three piles – One for garbage/recycling, one for donating and one for keeping.  Start writing a list of mementos that you want to give to specific people. Create a file for important documents (tax information, social security documents, titles, wills, etc.) so everything is gathered in one place and easily accessible.
  3. Get a floor plan for your new place – Decide where the major furniture will be placed such as your bed, dresser, couch, TV, bookshelf, table and chairs, etc. This will help whittle down the larger items you can take with you. If a piece serves multiple purposes, even better!
  4. Identify the special items – Select and set aside those personal items that will make your new home feel like home.  Family photos, artwork, select knickknacks – limit the amount you choose and make sure you keep the items you treasure most.  Space is at a premium, so choose the things that are most meaningful to you.
  5. Reduce, reduce, reduce! You will only need a small amount of dishes (not serving pieces and a set of 12 plates or wine glasses) and a few pots and pans in your new home. Kitchen items should be kept to a minimum.  One of the best parts of living in a senior community is being able to enjoy delicious meals that you don’t cook yourself!  Go through room-by-room and spend an hour or so per room.  Be quick with your decisions – remember, if you don’t love it or need it – get rid of it!

In the end, having a positive attitude and approaching this life change as a new adventure will make the all the difference.  Having someone help with the process can keep you on track and make the decisions about what to keep easier.  You will be amazed by the sense of freedom and lightness you feel once the process is complete and you settle into your new home!

For information on senior living visit The Selfhelp Home online

9 Foods to Eat That Make a Healthy Brain

Keeping our bodies and minds healthy as we age can be challenging.  Many of us worry that the slightest lapse in memory could be the start of something more serious like Alzheimer’s disease.  But there are ways to help slow the cognitive decline that can come with aging. Researchers have identified certain foods that can help keep both your body and mind healthy. Foods that are rich in antioxidants, good fats, vitamins and minerals provide energy and help protect against brain diseases.  Below are some foods to consider adding to your diet or increasing the amount you consume:

  1. Oil-based salad dressings:  Along with seeds, nuts, peanut butter and whole grains, salad dressings are high in vitamin E and this may help protect neurons or nerve cells from dying, which can lead to cognitive deterioration.
  2. Dark green leafy vegetables:  Use that oil-based salad dressing on kale, collard greens, spinach and broccoli as all are also good sources of vitamin E as well as folate.  Both vitamin E and folate help protect the brain.
  3. Avocados:  Avocados are another source of vitamin E and vitamin C.  Foods rich in these two vitamins are associated with a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.
  4. Fish:  Fish are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids so including salmon, mackerel, tuna and other fish in your diet and reducing or eliminating red meat and other artery clogging proteins are important to keep neurons functioning normally.
  5. Nuts: Peanuts, peanut butter, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and sunflowers are all good sources of vitamin E and are considered “healthy fats.” Nuts may help keep both the heart and the brain healthy and functioning properly – a two for one!
  6. Dark chocolate:  Dark chocolate is full of flavonoids, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  Flavonoids can help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to both the brain and the heart.
  7. Red Wine: If you are going to consume moderate amounts of alcohol, the best choice is red wine.  Studies have shown that people who drink moderate amounts of red wine and other types of alcohol may be at a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.
  8. Berries:  Keep eating those blueberries, strawberries and acai berries to help slow down age-related cognitive decline. Dark berries such as blackberries, blueberries and cherries are a rich source of anthocyanins and other flavonoids that may boost memory function.
  9. Whole Grains:  Grains rich in fiber are an integral part of the Mediterranean diet, which is also full of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, olive oil and wine.  This type of diet may reduce inflammation, oxidative stress and other vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure.  All of these factors may play a role in increasing the risk for brain and heart diseases.

In addition to a healthy diet, finding ways to reduce stress through meditation, a regular exercise regimen and memory enhancing exercises such as crossword puzzles, Sudoku or even just challenging your brain by trying to memorize your grocery list, learning to play a musical instrument, doing math problems in your head or taking a new way home.  Experts recommend a little “brain training” daily to strengthen brain function through everyday activities that offer novelty that helps to engage your brain in new ways. Getting enough uninterrupted sleep is also an important part of staying healthy and giving your brain a chance to recharge sufficiently. Keeping our brains functioning well requires us to feed it healthy foods, keep it engaged and challenged and then allow for sufficient rest and relaxation.  That’s the recipe for successful brain health!


The Benefits of Choosing a CCRC Retirement Community

Everyone ages a bit differently.  We all have unique needs, personalities, interests and preferences.

As time goes on, people require varying levels of assistance in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle and engage in activities they enjoy as part of their everyday lives. Sometimes, it is the children, relatives or friends that begin to notice it is getting more difficult for a loved one to do the things they once did, or that their health is beginning to decline.  Regardless of where the nudge comes from, the time may come to consider moving into a community that offers independent retirement apartments, assisted living, rehabilitation and/or skilled nursing care.  For many people, the decision to find a community that offers all of these services is often the best choice.

There are many considerations to take into account in finding the right community.  For instance, couples often have different needs.  One spouse may be younger than the other or in better health and may not require much, if any, assistance.  However, his or her spouse might require some help every day and as the spouse ages and his or her disease or condition progresses, might require more assistance as time goes on.  In other instances, people want to remain active and engaged, but living at home alone is isolating and they begin to feel disconnected from the world. Having people to socialize with, engaging activities such as cultural entertainment, movie nights, exercise classes, book clubs, and homemade kosher meals can make all the difference in the world.

What is a CCRC?

Moving into a vibrant community, where the person can move in and live independently and have services added as they need them, makes for a smoother transition for most people.  This is the lifestyle offered by a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). Finding the right CCRC means that instead of making a series of decisions and moving to a different location when needs change, the person can stay within the same community to get the help they need to be as independent as possible.

Some CCRC’s also have comprehensive rehabilitation services, so if surgery is needed at some point and the person requires rehabilitation afterward, they can recover in the rehabilitation center onsite and then return to their apartment after rehabilitation is complete.  The same is true for skilled nursing services and often memory care or hospice services as well. Receiving care from people you know in an environment that is familiar and comfortable reduces the stress that can come with increasing health needs.  Most people will tell you they want to remain at home as long as possible.  When “home” has all the services you might need for the future, a huge burden is removed, health care decisions become easier and you can live life to the fullest.

Where you live influences how well you live.  So, choose wisely, ask questions and take the time to think about what will make you happiest in the long term. For more information about senior living talk to a retirement counselor at or call us and ask for Laura Zellhofer, 773-271-0300.

Honoring Leni Weil with The Lifetime Achievement Award

Leni Weil has been a force of nature at The Selfhelp Home for more than 60 years, first as a volunteer teaching English to other refugees like herself, and later as a member of the Board of Trustees and its treasurer.

Fleeing Hitler’s Germany Leni landed in Chicago in 1939, working her way up from babysitting to singlehandedly running an office. As luck would have it, she reconnected here with an old friend from Stuttgart, the late Dr. Rolf Weil, her husband of 72 years.

The two were fiercely determined and equal partners; Rolf rising to the presidency of both Roosevelt University and The Selfhelp Home and Leni, the gracious and exceedingly smart “first lady,” whose support made it all possible.

Leni’s warm and generous nature has won her a bevy of admirers, foremost her adoring children and grandchildren. We at Selfhelp are proud to be central in her circle. It is a privilege to honor Leni with our Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Selfhelp Home Awarded Joint Commission Nursing Care Center Accreditation and Post-Acute Care Certification

Today, The Selfhelp Home announced it has earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for Nursing Care Center Accreditation  and Post-Acute Care Certification by demonstrating continuous compliance with its performance standards. The Gold Seal of Approval® is a symbol of quality that reflects an organization’s commitment to providing safe and effective patient and resident care. The Selfhelp Home underwent a rigorous on-site survey in early 2018 to meet the criteria and achieve this honor.

During the review, Joint Commission expert surveyors evaluated compliance with nursing care center standards related to several areas, including assistance with activities of daily living, coordination of care, and staff education and training. Surveyors also conducted on-site observations and interviews with leaders and staff of the organization.

“Joint Commission accreditation and certification provides nursing homes with a framework for the processes needed to improve the care patients and residents receive,” said Gina Zimmermann, MS, executive director, Nursing Care Center Accreditation Program, The Joint Commission. “We commend The Selfhelp Home for its efforts to become a quality improvement organization.”

“The Selfhelp Home is pleased to receive accreditation and certification from The Joint Commission, the premier health care quality improvement and accrediting body in the nation,” added Sheila Bogen, Executive Director of The Selfhelp Home. “Staff from across the organization continue to work together to develop and implement approaches and strategies that are geared for providing the highest quality and best possible care for our patients and residents.”

Established in 1966, The Joint Commission’s Nursing Care Center Accreditation Program accredits more than 1,000 organizations that offer nursing home and other long term care services. The Post-Acute Care Certification award was launched in 2013 by The Joint Commission to recognize nursing homes that demonstrate advanced competencies in the provision of post-acute care to patients and residents recently hospitalized.The accreditation and certification programs are awarded for a three-year period.

Succeeding At Being A Long Distance Caregiver

Whether you live just one hour away or across the country, when an elderly or ill loved one needs assistance, the role of caregiver takes on new meaning and there may be challenges to overcome.

Aside from providing hands on care, there are other aspects of caregiving that are equally as important and ways you can contribute even though you are far away:

  • Provide help with finances, money management, or bill paying
  • Assess the home for safety concerns such as throw rugs that can be a fall hazard or dim lighting
  • Coordinate transportation to doctor’s visits, hair appointments and other regular outings
  • Correspond regularly with the person needing care through phone calls, texts and/or emails to stay connected and to let them know you are there to listen
  • Arrange for in-home care—hire professional caregivers or home health or nursing aides and help obtain adaptive medical equipment such as a walker, shower chair, commode, etc.
  • Research assisted living centers, skilled nursing homes or communities where all levels of care are provided as an alternative to home care or if health care needs change.
  • Provide emotional support or occasional respite care for the primary caregiver who has taken on most of the everyday caregiving responsibilities
  • Serve as an information coordinator—research health problems, medications, and clarify insurance benefits and claims
  • Keep family and friends updated and informed about the person’s condition
  • Consider using technology to communicate and see monitor what is happening at the person’s home. There are caregiving apps available that allow long-distance caregivers and their sick loved ones to keep track of appointments and medications with pre-set reminders or alarms. Cameras can allow long-distance caregivers to see a loved one from his or her phone and monitor activities or status from far away. Medical on-call systems, some offered through local hospitals, can assist if something happens and the caregiver is not on site.
  • Create an emergency plan and gather necessary paperwork in one place in case the individual’s condition changes quickly or unexpectedly. Gather documents into a folder including advance directives, healthcare power of attorney, health insurance cards/policy, birth certificate, Social Security card, the person’s will and a list of his/her medications.
  • Keep a separate folder with paid medical bills in case there is a question or mistake in billing. You will need the account number and other information on the bill and these documents will be necessary at the end of the year for tax purposes.

Visit as often as you can; not only might you notice something that needs to be done and can be taken care of from a distance, but you can also relieve the primary caregiver for a short time.  Learn what you can about the person’s illness so you can better understand the course of the illness, prevent crises and assist with healthcare management.

You might consider hiring a geriatric case manager to assist, especially if there are no close family members or friends to provide daily assistance.   The case manager can provide updates, help guide decision-making around healthcare needs, schedule conference calls with doctors, the healthcare team and keep everyone up-to-date about the person’s health and progress. An independent advocate can help to oversee care and there are several resources, many of them free, offered through the Illinois Department on Aging.

Most importantly, while distance may separate you from your loved one, you can close the gap by communicating frequently and finding different ways to provide assistance and support.



Screenings of REFUGE Shown Around the World

REFUGE: Stories of the Selfhelp Home, Premieres in Poland and Returns to Germany for Eleven Screenings

Ethan Bensinger, a Selfhelp Board member, and Director of the documentary REFUGE: Stories of the Selfhelp Home, returned to Europe this fall to screen his film. This was the 4th consecutive year that Bensinger has reached out to audiences in Germany, but this year he added Poland to his twenty-five day European tour.

“We were thrilled to have received an invitation from the JCC in Krakow to screen REFUGE,” said Bensinger. “The organizers of the program well understood that the  eyewitness testimony related by the residents of the Selfhelp Home would provide a unique educational opportunity to the Polish community. The suffering of the Polish Jews was different; they didn’t have the opportunity to escape Central Europe on the Kindertransport or to seek refuge in Shanghai or in the United States. And, of course Kristallnacht was unique to the German and Austrian pre-war Jewish experience. To many of the audience members, these stories were new.”

His next stop was the Medienzentrum (media center) in Frankfurt, where Bensinger used the film and its accompanying study guide to facilitate a Holocaust training seminar for German high school teachers. Bensinger stated “The teachers found the study guide especially useful because it provides additional contextual resources and also directly links classroom study exercises, such as acting out roles, to the testimony provided in the film.”

While in Frankfurt, Bensinger also had the opportunity to screen REFUGE at the school that his father Ernst had attended prior to the war. “Screening and speaking at the Wöhlerschule was an extremely emotional event for me, somewhat of a closing of the circle. For most of the students this was the first time that they had the opportunity to meet a child of a former student who was forced during the Nazi period to flee Germany.”

Europa-University in Flensburg, a city in Northern Germany near the Danish border, was Bensinger’s next destination. There, at the invitation of Professor Birgit Dawes, Bensinger screened his documentary to students from Germany and several Scandinavian countries. In commenting on the film, Professor Dawes said:

Especially in a time when there is growing anti-Semitism in Germany, it is crucial that we-as German citizens and educators-remind ourselves and our students of the importance of remembering the Holocaust. As Germans, we have a particular national responsibility to hold up that memory, and educate our students accordingly. REFUGE is a crucial and most valuable contribution to that memory.

After several appearances at schools in the Hamburg area, Bensinger travelled to Leuphana University in Lüneburg, Germany. There, utilizing his film and his own family’s experiences during the war, Bensinger spoke on the topic of the “Transmission of Transgenerational Holocaust Memory.”* “ This was my 3rd visit to Lüneburg, a town with a very dark past”, said Bensinger. “It is here that the Nazis “euthanized” hundreds of children during the war. And, in previous years I screened REFUGE in a classroom building that was built by the Germans as an army barracks. Today Lüneburg is trying to come to grips with its past. Standing tall among those former Nazi barracks is a Daniel Liebeskind designed classroom building whose architectural details evoke the images of the Holocaust.”

Bensinger’s last stop on his journey was his mother’s hometown Fulda, where his screening coincided with the 79th anniversary of Kristallnacht. “ I was especially moved by the fact that many of the students who had seen the film earlier in the day, took the time to attend the commemoration at the former synagogue that evening. Evidently, something had resonated with them,” said Bensinger.

Bensinger believes that in light of the recent immigration of almost one million refugees, Germany can learn from the origins of Selfhelp, and how a community came together to care for its own. This was reiterated by a student at Leuphana University who said:

It was impressive to see how the lives of the refugees continued upon arrival in the United States. In school we learned about the concentration camps and how the people had to suffer. But we never learned anything about the life of the Jews after they left Germany. 

Along with presenting his film in Europe, Bensinger is a second-generation speaker on behalf of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.