"You can pick your friends, but you can't pick your relatives," might well have been the mantra of the sister-in-law of Josef Fritzl, the 73-year-old Austrian accused of imprisoning his daughter, Elisabeth, for 24 years in a soundproofed, windowless cellar and fathering seven children with her directly below the home he shared with his 68-year-old wife, Rosemarie.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Rosemarie's sister, asking to be identified only as "Christine R," called Joseph "a tyrant," who dominated and controlled. She described her sister as having been striving to hold together a troubled family, never suspecting what was going on, choosing to forgive him for this and other atrocities with the premise, "everyone makes a mistake." That takes turning the other cheek to a new level.
On Saturday the Oberoesterreichische Nachrichten Daily printed an excerpt of what is purportedly a 1967 court record in which a Josef F. was accused of raping a young nurse. Despite this, Christine R. said, "We were all taken in by him. Every person that looked in his eyes was fooled by him." Recent photos being shown on TV and a tape of him getting a massage on a Thai beach did nothing to inspire my trust.
Police report there is no evidence that Rosemarie was complicit in her husband's alleged atrocities, but this raises the issue of the responsibility of others who may have speculated about possible aberrant behavior. Christine R. explains, "If I was scared of him at a family party and I did not feel confident to say anything in any form that could possibly offend him, then you can imagine how it must have been for a woman that spent so many years with him."
Even if Rosemarie was in shock, which her sister maintains, was there no one who could speak up? If I'd been around, either as a family member, neighbor, local merchant or maybe just an aware Austrian, I like to think I'd have intervened. If I was unable to elicit the help of someone involved, I hope I would have gone to the authorities.
Many of us struggle with the distinction between what's being a buddinski vs. when it's appropriate to step in. This story clarifies that. The buddinski is someone who gives unsolicited advice about an unflattering skirt or how to deal with a rowdy child. But when there's reason to suspect abuse, taking serious measures becomes our responsibility.