Belmont Village honors World War II vets with photo exhibition

Belmont Village Senior Living’s Westwood center paid homage to the sacrifices of its Jewish World War II veterans on Nov. 9 with the opening of the permanent photo exhibition, “American Heroes: Portraits of Service,” featuring 37 portraits, mostly of Jewish veterans, accompanied by a brief biography or quote about the subject’s war experience.

Photographer Thomas Sanders, 27, has spent the past three years traveling across the country capturing the images and stories of war veterans at Belmont locations in the Midwest and Southeast as well as along the West Coast. Commissioned by Belmont Village, Sanders’ photos capture veterans posing with memorabilia from their service during World War II.

“Having [the veterans] hold a specific piece of memorabilia helps tell their story, and helps make the images more nostalgic and comfortable,” said Sanders, whose project also led to the 2010 book, “The Last Good War: The Faces and Voices of World War II.”

Among the notable Jewish veterans photographed by Sanders was longtime broadcaster and documentarian Perry Wolff, whose work with Walter Cronkite earned 15 Emmy and 14 Peabody awards throughout a 54-year career.

Wolff spoke of his military service as a Jewish soldier. “I opened one of the camps, and up until that moment I didn’t know what we were fighting for, but [when the gates opened] I found what we were fighting against,” he said.

Wolff read aloud from his 1952 World War II-themed novel, “Attack,” and spoke about the irony of liberating European Jewry while simultaneously feeling ostracized for the capital H, for Hebrew, on his dog tags.

Among the speakers at the exhibition’s opening was former 1st Lt. Louis Zuckerman, 90, a Chicago native who served with the Army Corps of Engineers. He recounted one encounter with a group of Nazi POWs reluctant to perform manual labor.

“I am a big Jew from Chicago, a personal friend of Al Capone,” he recalled telling the POWs, “and if you don’t move those logs, I will start firing.”