There's Trudy, 100, who settled in Kenya with her husband, leaving her parents in Germany. She never saw them again.
There's Hannah, 93, the sole survivor among her family, who's never forgotten her sister's parting words: "Hannah, you were my best friend."
And there's Joe Chaba, 85, and his wife, Helen. Married 55 years, they're inseparable, holding hands on the rooftop garden, whispering to one another, sharing meals. Helen, 89, has dementia; they have 24-hour nursing care.
Now in his twilight years, Chaba thinks more about his days in a camp at age 10, constantly staring death in the face — sometimes unloading piles of bodies from trucks — but never contemplating it for himself. Life was a day-to-day proposition.
He quietly pulls two snapshots from his wallet, handsome young men with thick crowns of wavy hair. One is him, the other, his older brother, David, his protector in five camps, now dead. They were the only survivors among their family of seven.
"By God's sake I'm still alive," he says, his voice quavering. "God helped me. I believe in God."
On the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, everyone will gather in the social hall for prayers, readings and a candle-lighting ceremony.
The Selfhelp home has plaques and art — some created by the residents — that recognize the terrible events of long ago. But there is no single memorial to the Holocaust that has brought them together.
It's part of the home's philosophy, says Efrat Stein, an outreach worker.
There's no need for constant reminders of the past, she says: "This is a place to LIVE."
Sharon Cohen is a Chicago-based national writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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