Josef Fritzl built a dungeon for his daughter under his home. There he raped her and forced her to raise a second family underground. How did she survive for 24 years?

“...sometimes the most dreadful of crimes can happen in the most ordinary of places.”
Professor David Wilson, Criminologist

“If it’s not your business, don’t get involved.”
Austrian proverb


Fritzl’s grandmother, Anna Fritzl, was born in the ‘somewhat unglamorous’ town of Amstetten, in Austria.
She married a mill owner. Their loveless marriage was made worse because Anna couldn’t conceive. So Fritzl’s grandfather had sex with his servants. One of these, Maria, would become Josef Fritzl’s mother.

In 1934, Maria met a very poor man called Josef. On 9 April 1935, the unmarried couple had a child. They gave their son his father’s first name and Anna’s maiden name.
Josef Fritzl was probably stigmatised by his conservative community from birth because of his illegitimacy. At home, Josef was just as likely to be mistreated;

“The only emotion that Mr Fritzl knew in his early years was fear. Fear for his mother, and fear of his mother...she maltreated him without any obvious reason. He never knew when it would come again.”
Dr Heidi Kastner, Forensic Psychiatrist to Josef Fritzl

On 12 March 1938, when Josef was nearly three years old, Hitler’s troops marched across the border in to Amstetten.
Hitler himself followed a few days later to be greeted by a large crowd.
Young Josef was in that crowd perched on the shoulders of his father to greet the Führer.
In 1938, 99.7% of Austrians voted to become part of the Third Reich. There was no unity in Josef’s home:


“I grew up in a poor family. My father was a no good scoundrel who always mother threw him out of the house when I was four...She was the best woman in the world, and I was her husband in some way. I was the only man in the house. I loved her over everything.”
Extract from Josef Fritzl’s statement, released shortly after his arrest in April 2008

Josef’s feelings towards his mother weren’t reciprocated. And Maria’s independent ways, her lack of conformity, and her feisty temper, soon meant she was in trouble with the Nazi authorities.

“During the Second World War, (Maria) was arrested and interned to a concentration camp where she spent a few months...Josef was left on his own... that must have left scars on the young boy’s psyche.”
Bojan Panchevski, European Correspondent

Nine-year-old Josef was sent to an orphanage during this period and told that his mother was dead. Only as the war ended did he realise she was still alive.

Young Josef’s father had joined the German army and fought on the Eastern front until he was taken prisoner by the Russians. He was released in 1948 and returned to Amstetten where he was shunned by both the boy and his mother.

After the war Fritzl’s mother became even more eccentric and aggressive. Maria’s discipline towards her son grew more violent:

“There’s absolutely no doubt that Maria...was not a loving mother...she didn’t have the psychological makeup to understand that she had responsibilities for her child, that she should care for her child. And so, she would regularly beat him.”
Professor David Wilson, Criminologist

Childhood friends remember Josef as intelligent, if a little aloof:

“He was slightly superior to us.”
Karl Dunkl, Fritzl school friend

His relationship with his mother changed when Josef turned 15. He finally stood up against Maria’s attacks. Disturbingly, a connection between family, violence and sexuality was already being set:

“Did I fantasise about my mother? Probably...But I was strong and I have therefore managed to suppress my urges.”
Josef Fritzl

But Josef's urges found other outlets.

“We see some really difficult psychosexual behaviours emerging around (this) time...he becomes what’s known as a lurker. We would probably call this a peeping Tom. He’s going to listen out for young couples having sex in their homes so that he can hear their sexual activity. He’s also going to develop from that kind of behaviour to exposing himself to women.”
Professor David Wilson, Criminologist