Austrian children’s home charged with ‘decades’ of physical and mental abuse
Children were physically and mentally abused for decades at a former Austrian children’s home and city authorities knew about it but did nothing, a commission charged with investigating the allegations said Wednesday.
The Wilhelminenberg home on a hill above Vienna closed in 1977, but until then children staying there were subjected to regular abuse and in some cases raped by personnel or men from outside the home, the commission found in its report.
“The commission confirms the use of massive physical and psychological violence over decades,” its head Barbara Helige told a press conference Wednesday.
The violence went beyond the severe education techniques of the time and clearly violated regulations on children’s homes which forbid beatings, Helige said, confirming that rapes also took place.
“The suspects broke in from outside or gained access to the dormitories with help from the nurses,” she said.
Allegations about abuse at the Wilhelminenberg home — which has since been turned into a hotel — first surfaced in October 2011 when two women told an Austrian newspaper of rapes, beatings and other abuse that went on there from 1948 to 1977.
The city of Vienna commissioned the report to look into the charges.
The conclusions will be handed to prosecutors but whether criminal charges will be brought against those who carried out the abuse is still unclear, said Helige.
Some 20-30 suspects have been named but many could not be identified.
The commission also found that city authorities at the time were aware of the allegations, following a wave of complaints by parents, nurses and youth services, but did nothing.
“Something like this must never happen again,” Helige concluded.
Unusually, all files from the home were destroyed after its closure so the report relied heavily on interviews with some 220 people, including former staff and children from the Wilhelminenberg home.
In them, the home’s former children complained of being stigmatised by staff, isolated and subjected to severe punishments, for instance if they did not finish their food.
Several witnesses also reported being sexually abused or seeing others raped.
The report is available online at www.kommission-wilhelminenberg.at.