Today is Mother’s Day in Austria. I cannot see the boys because my visiting days are only alternate Sundays and I already know what the answer will be if I ask. I must admit, I‘ve never been prone to sentimentality on such occasions. Every day is Mother’s day in a loving home, I’ve always believed. Daily affection, communication and small acts of love and appreciation speak far louder to my mind than an overpriced card and perishable flowers once a year. No devoted mother needs to be reminded of her pivotal role in her children’s lives. Yet this year, I am overcome with a powerful urge to flee far into the Austrian Alps to escape the unbearable torment and profound emptiness this Mother’s Day invokes.
The ubiquitous commercialisation of the day makes me want to throw up. Each of the saccharine heart shaped gifts, pretty balloons and myriad Mother’s Day messages, is a punch in the stomach; cruel and mocking reminders that the Austrian courts have taken my children away from me.
Painful flashbacks resurface of how Sammy and Benji were brutally uprooted from their peaceful, secure and stable environment, their entire world shattered in an instant. A fateful decision taken against the whole weight of evidence for no logical reason at all. Ripped from my arms when they were just two year old babies, the invisible umbilical cord every growing child still cleaves to, barbarically severed far too soon. Left to fathom for themselves with a child’s innocence, the inexplicable reasons why; while I am left bereft, a childless mother, reduced to one day a week visits, forced to keep on running an empty home in the fervent expectation of my boys’ return.
The waiting and hoping is an agony for which the judges in my case have shown total disregard. Family Courts are not commercial arenas where people wrangle for financial gain. Family Court Judges carry grave responsibility for children’s lives. We are play dough in their hands; entire futures depend on their decisions. While commercial cases may also often drag on for years and long drawn-out decisions are indisputably frustrating, at least the affected can mostly get on with their lives in the meantime. Until a custody decision is reached, our lives however, are frozen in time. I have almost forgotten what normal life means. Cheery conversations about summer holiday destinations and hotels among friends and colleagues sound alien and absurd to my ears. Normality is inconceivable as long as my children are suffering and the question mark of their future hangs heavy over us.
The remarkable news this week of the three kidnapped women freed from a cellar in Cleveland where they were tortured, raped and suffered all manner of unspeakable horrors 10 years long, revived the Austrian child abduction cases of Fritzl and Natascha Kampusch in the national consciousness. Behind the beautiful façades of the Viennese buildings and meticulously tended municipal parks, lurk some of the darkest, ugliest secrets. In those abuse cases, the children were hidden away and the Austrian police, authorities and neighbours claimed ignorance about the horrors taking place behind closed doors.
Nobody can claim they do not know that Samuel and Benjamin Schlesinger are severely under developed, have had teeth removed without explanation, look unkempt and show alarming signs of disturbance. I, together with concerned professionals, have lodged numerous danger reports with the Social Services. Working with my lawyer, I have repeatedly addressed my concerns to the court, to the Kinder und Jugendanwaltschaft (NSPCC equivalent), to the Ombundsman and to child protection agencies. The demonstrations in London have ensured that the Austrian Ambassador, the Foreign Office and the British government are fully aware of this tragic case. I even received a letter from the British Prime Minister expressing his sympathy for our suffering and his sincere hopes for a speedy solution. Through your thousands of letters we made sure that the Austrian Justice Minister and Austrian Chancellor were also informed. The press releases, newspaper articles and blog posts have raised public awareness and the nationalities of the signatories on the petition illustrate that this injustice has shocked and incensed people all over the world.
Two young helpless children are suffering in Vienna. This is not a secret concealed in a cellar. Rather, this is taking place in the full glare of the public eye, allowed to continue and exacerbated by the languid actions of the Austrian courts. For all our sakes, when is this ever going to end?
Please sign this PETITION and urge others to sign.