(Originally an update to a previous post):

Okay so, I kept thinking, “Are they going to track down anyone who can say what happens to a person if they go through their entire growing years without seeing the sun?” Well they finally tracked that person down…

The Times – Austria: scale of the physical scars from Josef Fritzl emerges

The Austrian authorities revealed that all the imprisoned children have emerged with defective immune systems and suffering from vitamin D deficiency.

None of them had ever seen a doctor or a dentist before their release and the oldest, at the age of 19, has already lost most of her teeth.

The height of their prison ceilings has left them each with a cramped physical posture and all three are anaemic.

One of the children is being tested to see if his sight and hearing have been impaired by 18 years of confinement

Experts said that the psychological problems resulting from being the child of an incestuous relationship – and of living in a claustrophobic bolthole – are unique.

“Psychologically a lot depends on what their mother has told them over the years, whether she has explained the reason for their imprisonment or whether they have come to accept it as a normal condition,” Rotraud Perner, a psychotherapist from Vienna, said.


Rosemarie – who is herself a mother of seven children – is 68; Elisabeth is 42. Yet doctors say that 24 years in a bunker has aged Elisabeth so that she looks almost as old as her mother. “We are looking after all of them with a large team of child and adult psychologists, therapists, neurologists, logopedists and physiotherapists,” Dr Kepplinger said. “Each of the patients is traumatised in a different way and we are giving them individual therapy.”

That’s probably why he let the one kid out to get medical treatment. He had to know he’d be caught, but if the daughter looks like old enough to be his wife, maybe it doesn’t feel as illegal, disgusting and forced.

Of the children reared upstairs, brought up on fresh milk and used to playing in the garden, one has a heart problem that may derive from the genetic composition of her parentage. Otherwise, she and the other upstairs siblings are reported to be healthy. All were born downstairs and taken out when they were infants. The explanation offered by Mr Fritzl was that they were dumped on the doorstep by their wayward mother. One was formally adopted, the other two were classified as foster children – entitling Josef and Rosemarie Fritzl to cash benefits.

He’s cynical, too!

During the reunion, Dr Kepplinger said, it was clear that the vocabulary of the downstairs children was very limited; they stumbled and searched for words. Their mother had taught them some reading and writing, although Elisabeth herself lost much of her childhood because of years of sexual abuse that began when she was 11, and her imprisonment from the age of 18. There were no books in the dungeon: the main education, over the years, has been the television. …

Elisabeth administered cough medicine and aspirin to her daughter before she fell unconscious. Josef had supplied no other medication.

Wow. So, at the end of [this article], quoting various Austrian papers:

“Abused at the age of 11. Then it took another seven years before this abused child was thrown by her father into a dungeon. Seven years in which not a single person recognised the distress of this child. Until this point the fate of this child was a normal one, the fate that befalls thousands of children every day: sexual assault, sexual violence in the family . . . now the small stories of abuse will seem even less spectacular. Those small stories about small children who are abused by their fathers, uncles or stepdads . . . Children, cry out. Shout for your lives. Tell your teacher or your big sister or the nearest policeman” Kronen Zeitung

And then, the only thing written about the community that I think worth linking to (no, I don’t think Austria’s Nazi past is worth tying into this, and I don’t think that Austrians should be encouraged to assume that their neighbors have sex dungeons in every basement (see Daniel Finkelstein for a good line on that)):

The Times – Herd Indifference<br/> The lessons of the tragedy of the family F are not just for Amstetten

The sheer horror of the story will require a social reckoning as well as a structural one. Neighbours will testify, but their reactions are already telling. “I’m good friends with Mrs F,” one told The Times yesterday. This neighbour admitted she did not know the Fs’ first names. There are, it turns out, heartrending differences between empty rituals and genuine community and between respect for privacy and cold indifference. Those given the task of finding out what truly went wrong in Amstetten will have to ask awkward questions of its people. But they should also look abroad – to Britain, for instance, where Stephen Wills, a cyclist knocked down by one motorist, was left to die by others who swerved to avoid him rather than stopping to help. The human herd seldom shows the same compassion or responsibility as human individuals.

Austrians may now clamour for legislation, but new laws will be less effective in preventing new atrocities than the shock from which Amstetten is now reeling. That shock sends two clear messages. While meddlesome police and social services can pose a risk to families, a complacent state that fails even to offer a reliable safety net poses risks of a different order. More broadly, a community merely going through the motions of human interaction is no community at all.