As a Selfhelp founder, Franks and others decided after about a decade to start a retirement community for their parents and other refugees, many attached to Old World ways. In 1951, a rambling, three-story brick house was dedicated in Hyde Park, on the South Side. The home later moved to a nine-story building on the North Side.
About 15 years ago, with increasing numbers of survivors dying, Selfhelp — which offers everything from independent living to around-the-clock care — began opening its doors to Jews who weren’t European war refugees.
Soon, the reason this home was founded will cease to be.
“In a matter of years, this community will be gone, this sense of culture will be gone, these last links to what central Europe was before the war will be no longer be with us,” Bensinger says. “There’s a great sense of sadness for all of us.”
That sorrow, though, has been tempered, by those still here to write the last chapter.
Edith Stern sometimes thinks her memory is too strong.
She remembers her improbable wedding ceremony in Theresienstadt. A concentration camp inmate with meningitis, she was too weak to stand, but strong enough to take her vows. Her head was bandaged and a pink silk gown peeked out from her blanket. Her groom stood at her side.
“All the people cried,” she says with a wistful smile. “I laughed. I’d married the man of my dreams.”
She remembers months later, she and her mother on a transport, thinking they were heading to a German labor camp where they’d be reunited with their husbands. Instead, they arrived at Auschwitz. Her mother was dispatched to the gas chambers, Stern to work. She was ushered into the camp by a female guard who pointed to the chimneys, and delivered a chilling taunt: