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     Volume 7 Issue 26 | June 27, 2008 |

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Food for Thought

The Monster Behind the Mask
(Part II)

Farah Ghuznavi

The case of a 73-year-old Austrian man who secretly incarcerated his daughter in an underground prison, repeatedly assaulting her and fathering her seven children has shocked and horrified people worldwide. Within Austria, questions are being asked about how Josef Fritzl could have done this to his daughter Elisabeth without raising suspicions among any of those around him.

The extent of ignorance and disinterest by friends, family and neighbours however hard to understand - is one thing, but what seems even stranger is how Fritzl's activities went so successfully unnoticed in a modern European welfare state. Some of this can perhaps be explained by Austria's draconian privacy laws, which appear designed to protect the individual's privacy clearly at all costs! But even so, there are things about this case that just don't add up.

However much the individual's privacy is respected by a society, the fact remains that Fritzl had earlier served a jail sentence after a conviction for rape an attack that he committed in the city of Linz, by which time he already had four children with his wife Rosemarie. Austria's rehabilitation-minded laws eventually expunged this conviction from official records (in itself fairly bizarre, since it hardly seems logical to expect convicted sex offenders to miraculously reform without counselling, treatment, follow-up and monitoring!), but many of his neighbours were in any case fully aware of Fritzl's history as a convicted rapist.

Source: www.theage.com.au

Under the circumstances, it is hard to understand why the police would not ask questions as to why the teenage Elisabeth ran away from home not once but twice, before she was trapped in the cellar at the age of eighteen. Yet apparently this question was not asked on either occasion. Instead the runaway girl was delivered by the law-enforcement agencies right back into the hands of her tormentor.

Source: www.the dailymail.co.uk

Furthermore, while Fritzl concocted an elaborate story to cover up his daughter's disappearance, claiming that she had left home to join a cult, the authorities did not seem to consider it necessary to verify this story, satisfied by the note Fritzl had forced Elisabeth to write that supported his version of events. Surely an obvious first step in establishing the validity of the story would have been to undertake a thorough search of the household premises including the cellar to rule out foul play? Clearly this was not done. Nor did anyone appear to find it odd that having run away to join a cult, Elisabeth would periodically return and drop off not one but three children at the doorstep of the very parents she herself had run away from!

On the contrary, the officials instead helped the respectable family man, Fritzl, to do right by his “grandchildren” by facilitating the adoption and fostering of these three children. Over the years, social workers made dozens of visits to ascertain the wellbeing of the adoptees, without any alarm bells ever being set off in that process. Not only did the authorities approve the placement of the children, it seems they never even wanted to find out why the cult would allow Elisabeth to send these children home, when cults are notorious for hanging on to every member they can, especially young and impressionable children who represent the next generation of membership.

Various explanations have been offered as to why Josef Fritzl did what he did to his daughter, in addition to his own sick justifications. Among other things, it now appears he may also have been responsible for the death of a young woman whose body was fished out of a lake opposite the spot where he and his wife ran an inn for several years. Chillingly, the dead woman is said to bear a striking resemblance to Elisabeth Fritzl. Whether or not that crime can ever be proved, authorities are now seeking to dredge up the paperwork related to Fritzl's previous rape conviction in order to piece together the details of this case. The aim, according to one remarkably naïve-sounding government official, is to find out “what made Fritzl do what he did”.

I suspect the answer to that may be well beyond the capacity of any sane human being to understand! There have been some unlikely suggestions made, including that Fritzl's behaviour can be somehow understood in the context of his early years, which were spent growing up during the last decade of the Third Reich. Frankly it doesn't seem like much of an explanation; especially since he was not a concentration camp guard, being less than ten years old at the time! Furthermore, while the evils of Hitler's regime are undeniable, National Socialism certainly never espoused any form of incest least of all in so-called Aryan families.

Another explanation offered for Fritzl's madness is that he was severely affected by a brutal childhood at the hands of a mother who apparently beat him on a daily basis. This may undoubtedly have contributed to Fritzl growing up to be a bitter and twisted man, but sadly there are any number of children in this world who have similar experiences. And most of them manage to survive their brutal childhoods without turning into such monsters, however damaged they may be as a result of those traumas.

The most fundamental explanation for Fritzl's madness is perhaps precisely that: madness. And the fact that he successfully hid his psychosis from so many people for so many years is a terrifying thing to dwell upon, as are the acts he was driven to commit. But contrary to his current assertion that he is the victim of adverse media coverage (!) and his lawyer's plan to plead insanity so that he will be placed in a psychiatric facility rather than being incarcerated in prison there can be little doubt that Fritzl's crimes were planned and committed in chillingly cold blood and with no small degree of agency.

Many fear that after committing such heinous acts, he will now escape appropriate punishment. Austrians are left asking themselves how this could have happened in their country, and the case has prompted great introspection and self-analysis within Austrian society. After all, this is a country where your neighbours report you to the police if you violate traffic rules by having more than four people in a car! So how could such terrible crimes go unnoticed and unpunished? These are important questions. But in the final analysis, perhaps the greatest dissonance in this case does not lie in what Fritzl's neighbours should or should not have known, it lies in how a functioning, even invasive, state system could have failed so totally to identify this monster masquerading as an upright citizen.


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