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The Walnut Tree

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, New York 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Elida Schogt
Directed by Elida Schogt
VHS, b& with color, 11 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Photography, Women's Studies, World War II

Reviewed by Barb Bergman, Minnesota State University, Mankato


“How long do you remember something never happened to you?” the filmmaker asks in The Walnut Tree’s opening shot. Although the film tells the story of a family during the Holocaust, The Walnut Tree should not be considered just a Holocaust film. It is more accurate to describe The Walnut Tree as a film about family memory.

The narrator, Schogt’s mother, matter of factly narrates the film as if we the viewers were sitting there looking through the family photo album with her. She tells us about the photographs that we are shown and describes the family’s experiences during World War II and the Holocaust. A photo of three girls - the narrator and her sisters - in Dutch costume tell the tale of the innocent times before the war. She tells of how neighbors hid the photo album with their other treasured belongings, but that her parents took a few of the photos with them when they went into hiding. There are, of course, no family photos from the time they were in hiding. For visuals during the description of how the family hid from the Nazis, the filmmaker uses archival photos and images of the trains and railways that took so many to their deaths. The narrator wonders whether her parents still had the photos with them when they were taken to Auschwitz.

We then see more recent photos and home movies showing the three sisters and their children. In the final sequence, Schogt’s mother describes how her parents’ walnut tree, which was cut down during the war, has re-grown into a strong tree producing many walnuts. This tale of the walnut tree seems to be a fitting analogy to the ultimate survival of their family.

Schogt uses an experimental approach to her documentary filmmaking. There are no talking heads. The narrator, Schogt’s mother, is seen only in the photographs. In a mere 11 minutes, The Walnut Tree provides considerable amount of food for thought. It should be good for generating class discussion about family photos and memories, as well as about the Holocaust. It should also be useful in Film Studies classes for discussion of experimental film. For those who may be concerned about Holocaust imagery, the archival photos are unobjectionable photos of family groups, not of the death camps.

The Walnut Tree is the second in Schogt’s trilogy of films about family, memory, and the Holocaust. Zyklon Portrait (1999) and Silent Song (2001) are also distributed by Women Make Movies.

Recommended. Suitable for junior high through adult audiences.