History of The Selfhelp Home

The Selfhelp Home has a history unlike any other senior living community in Chicago. It was founded in 1938, in the shadow of the Holocaust, as a purely volunteer mutual aid society where refugees and survivors could find community and rebuild their lives.  It became a priority of the founders to provide a caring and comfortable home for them to live out their years with compassion, dignity and a high quality of life.

Today, it stands as a living, breathing testament to the human spirit and the name “Selfhelp” embodies the character, determination and fortitude of the founding men and woman who organized a volunteer network of European-Americans to care for the refugees fleeing Nazism and, later, the rare survivors.

It was Jewish people helping Jewish people.

Selfhelp officially became a ‘Home” in 1951 when it purchased the old Drexel Mansion in Hyde Park, housing 19 residents. As the need surpassed space, Selfhelp purchased and rebuilt the building at 908 W. Argyle and, subsequently expanding and purchasing the 920 Argyle building next door several years later.

Today, The Selfhelp Home  thrives as a boutique Jewish community where older adults experience the highest quality of life possible, founded on the principles of compassion and dignity. Selfhelp is among the most respected Jewish elder communities and nursing homes in the United States.  The Selfhelp Home maintains the highest rating of 5 stars by Medicare and was awarded Best Nursing Homes by U.S. News and World Report in 2024, 2023, 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014.

The Selfhelp Home is accredited by the Joint Commission for Post-Acute Care and Skilled Nursing. In September 2021 The Selfhelp Home was the first in the nation to achieve The Joint Commission’s Assisted Living Community (ALC) Accreditation, participating in the new accreditation program that will help raise the bar for seniors in ALCs across the nation. The program is in response to a shift in the assisted living environment that calls for more oversight and health care standards as seniors are staying in their homes longer and moving into ALCs with more health care needs than in the past.


The history and legacy of The Selfhelp Home is beautifully captured in the film Refuge by Ethan Bensinger. The film  reaches back more than 75 years to tell the stories of the founding of the Selfhelp Home and the people that live here. This five-time international award-winning film captures the stories of this last generation of survivors, through revealing interviews with the Home’s residents and founders and with expert commentary from noted historians. Refuge examines the range of experiences before, during and after World War II, and how Chicago’s newly arrived German Jews came together as a community to create a singular place that those fleeing Nazi persecution could call home.

About The Filmmaker- Ethan Bensinger, Director 
In 2007, Ethan created an archive of personal interviews for The Selfhelp Home that included 30 residents who had been victims of Nazi persecution. Today, this archive can be found at Selfhelp, the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago, and online, courtesy of the Leo Baeck Institute in New York.

That project inspired Ethan to film a one-hour documentary that highlights the diverse experiences of six Selfhelp residents and three of the home’s founders, before, during, and after WWII.

Ethan’s parents and grandparents were forced to flee the Nazi regime in the 1930s for a new life in Palestine. Ethan was born after the State of Israel was founded and then moved with his family to America in 1955. His family’s experience led Ethan to his chosen profession as an immigration lawyer, and for 25 years, he served as the managing director of the Chicago office of a global immigration law firm. Since his retirement from law, Ethan has been involved in volunteer and philanthropic endeavors. With REFUGE, Ethan has turned his love of historical narratives into a new career in filmmaking.


More About Refuge

To learn more about Refuge, or to schedule a screening in your community, email [email protected]