Bringing the Past to Life: Inspiring Filmmakers Around the World

October 3, 2020

Henry Selver, PBS: Dr. Henry Selver, Director of the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work, at a JDC Country Directors Meeting in Paris, France, early 1950s.


JDC became a part of Veronica Selver’s life when she was just five years old. Seventy years later, the organization is there once again.

Veronica is a filmmaker from Oakland, California. Based on her late mother’s memoir, her recent documentary, IRMI, takes viewers on an emotional and inspiring journey about the life of Irmi Selver — a story entwined with JDC both on and off screen.

Irmi’s is a powerful story of survival and persistence. In 1941, after losing her first husband and two children during a German submarine attack while fleeing Europe, Irmi resolutely made her way to America. It was there that she met her new husband, Henry Selver, an educator and social worker in New York and also a recent German Jewish refugee. They married in 1942 and soon after started a family together — including Veronica and her sister, Irene.

That’s when JDC entered Veronica’s life. In 1949, Henry accepted the position of Director at the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work in Versailles, France. The JDC-founded school provided specialized training to social workers from Europe and around the world, many of whom were working with Holocaust survivors.

For eight years, Veronica and her family lived in France, establishing close connections with other American families who were there on behalf of JDC.

“JDC was our family; they were like uncles and aunts to my sister and me… it was a familial community all belonging to JDC,” explained Veronica.

When her father died in 1957 and Irmi moved the family back to New York, many of those families stayed in their lives.

Decades later, when Veronica began putting together her film, she knew that JDC would be part of the story. The JDC Archives provided Veronica with materials on the Paul Baerwald School, including footage from 1950 featuring her father at one of the school’s graduation ceremonies and other relevant photos and documents. In addition, Veronica had footage of the school from a film her mother made for her father’s 50th birthday, which she shared with the Archives.

The relationship with the Archives during her filmmaking process was invaluable to Veronica. “Coming to JDC, coming to the Archives, it was like coming home for me,” she said. “I’m so pleased, so touched, for my mother, for my father, that JDC was part of this.”

In 2020, Veronica was awarded the JDC Archives Documentary Film Grant, which is given annually to a film that focuses on twentieth century Jewish history, humanitarian assistance, and related topics, and makes use of JDC archival collections in its production. Each year, the Documentary Film Grant Advisory Committee, chaired by JDC board member Jane Swergold, reviews the applications and selects the recipient. Since the film grant’s inception in 2017, its winners and runners up have spanned the globe — bringing us stories from Cuba, Poland, Syria, and beyond.


In addition to being a critical resource for filmmakers and documentarians, numerous productions aired on PBS and other media outlets have drawn from the JDC Archives collection comprising 3 miles of documents; 100,000 photos; and 3,600 films, videos, and audio recordings.

The accessibility of these historical treasures has also been key to the work of museums, educators, and researchers over the years. Thanks to The Henry and Marilyn Taub JDC Archives Film, Video, and Audio Project — established in 2017 with a generous gift from Steven and Benay Taub, Ira and Shelley Taub, and Judy Taub Gold in honor of their parents, Henry and Marilyn Taub — films and other audiovisual materials in JDC’s collection are being preserved and digitized to the benefit of storytellers of all kinds around the world.

As this important work of cataloguing and preserving historic audio-visual materials continues, the JDC Archives collections will undoubtedly inspire historical arts and cultural projects for years to come.

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