The Sins of the Father: Fritzl

Josef Fritzl is an extreme deviant. How does a society deal with such individuals? There are always a handful of aberrant people who commit such appalling acts that they shock and bewilder even the most experienced psychologist of human nature. I spent an evening once with the then UK Government’s top psychiatrist, someone whose life is spent shuttling between serial killers; psychopaths who are unique in their symptoms and behaviours. There are no real patterns across cases, just a continuous malfunctioning in each of them concerning whatever it is that keeps us abiding by social conventions, moral or religious codes; no critical self-awareness. These (mostly men) have little sense of social pressure to conform to anything. The worlds that exist inside their heads bear little relation to the one outside, which the rest of us inhabit. Inside their tiny universes, they reign supreme and whatever the desire that arises, it must be satisfied. Whether their adult condition comes from abuse, lack of love, trauma or some genetic aberration, the result is often so excessive in its barbarity that it raises in us the desire to have them eliminated from life. They are not non-contributors like people in comas because we can await their re-awakening in some slight hope. No, they will never be released and we have no hope for them. Their only value to society is as guinea pigs in the slow growth of understanding of what causes these conditions. The man I met was remarkably easy going and unaffected by his forensic questioning of diseased minds. When I pointed this out, wondering about the horrors of possible transference, he said that the creatures he visits are so far removed from normalcy that he sees them as Gordian knots through which no sword will slice. He only has words and drugs.

Fritzl has blamed his mother for his acts, having spent time with a psychiatrist who may or may not have fed him this rationale for what took place over more than two decades. Our parents can do terrible things to us, wittingly or unwittingly. Whether his mother’s crime tripped his lack of critical self-awareness to the extent that his incest-fantasy would consume him totally, will never be resolved. What does seem to have happened is that he viewed a videotape of his daughter’s 9 hour testimony while she sat in court. Reality forced its way in, enough for him to apologise. But not enough for the world to accept his contrition. He will stay in prison hospital for ever, probably. But at least his daughter Elisabeth, after her long, abused and nihilistic incarceration, saw him with her own eyes as a sick old man, shuffling to and from court and collapsed in on himself, never again the powerful Dad who had taken so much of her life’s potential in his hands and torn it apart in his cramped cellar.

Meanwhile, Fritzl and his lawyer have received thousands of death threats from Austrian citizens. And Elisabeth’s tenuous, anonymous new life with all her children has been revealed in the press. She is hunted as though she must remain a State victim. One wonders about those in humanity who may be short of becoming psychopaths but who can do a fine job in stamping brutally on the defenceless victims of the deranged, never mind the so-called ‘monsters’ themselves and those that are legally bound to defend them on the public’s behalf.

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