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Tangled Roots

Distributed by New Day Films, 190 Route 17M, P.O. Box 1084, Harriman, NY 10926; 888-367-9154 or 845-774-7051
Produced by Heidi Schmidt Emberling
Directed by Heidi Schmidt Emberling
VHS, color, 66 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Holocaust and Genocide Studies, History, World War II

Reviewed by Karen A. Plummer, University of Akron (Akron, OH)

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   

How do you come to terms with yourself and your family past? Filmmaker Heidi Schmidt Emberling, the daughter of a Jewish American mother and a German father, had many questions about her family history. To answer her questions, she has woven home movies, family photographs and interviews with archival footage to produce a unique view of two families, and in the end she is able to reconcile her own dual identity.

In post-WWII California, Wolf Schmidt, the son of a German soldier, married Janet Meyers, the daughter of a Jewish-American pharmacist. This marriage resulted in the birth of a daughter (Heidi) with a confusing legacy. The Meyers family was a conservative Jewish family hoping that their daughter would marry someone Jewish. They were also strongly anti-German, who, like many of the time, equated Nazis and Germans as one and the same. The Schmidt family did not seem to have problems with their son’s marriage to a Jew, but what about Wolf’s father who served in the German army during the war? What role did he play, if any, in the destruction of the Jewish people including many of Heidi’s relatives?

Neither side of her family ever spoke the WWII or what happened during the Holocaust. Learning about WWII in high school, she began to feel uncomfortable about being German. Heidi began asking questions, probing the memories and feelings of her relatives in order to further understand herself and her family. The process was not a simple one. While her questions were non-confrontational, they elicited a variety of responses from sad memories to guilt sometimes mixed with anger.

Some of the most poignant moments in the film focus on interviews with her father including his comment that he is not always proud to be a German along with his tearful comments about on-going German guilt shows great guilt for the things done by the German people during the war; her grandmother Grace Meyer as she speaks of how her love for her daughter overcame her horror at her daughter’s marriage to a German; and the heated comments from her aunt Carola as she explains why she refused to escort her niece to visit Dachau.

In the end, what does Heidi learn? She learns that to her German relatives she is German and to her Jewish relatives she is Jewish. Anything further is her own definition of self. Her exploration is not futile. Heidi pulls great strength and family feeling from the strong-willed women on both sides of her family who sacrificed much to nurture their children. She has gained much knowledge of her family history and its legacy. Now it is her turn to pass this legacy on to her son and the generations to come.

This film shot in color with black and white sequences, can be used with junior high school-aged children through adult audiences as a study in historic cultural differences, family relationships, or Holocaust studies. Highly recommended