thank you for the constructive conversation over the phone we had today. I truly believe that no child should be separated from its parents. Therefore, since the beginning of the custody battle between Beth an her ex-husband, the wellbeing of their children has been mine and the community’s primary concern. I myself and many members of our community tried to mediate and find solutions as you know. Even years after the first court rulings many members of this community not only expressed their solidarity with Beth but supported her actively on many occasions.
Upon her own request some mediated between her and her ex-husband, delivered messages between them in order to enable continued contact between Beth and her sons. The former Chief Rabbi of Vienna organized accompaniment by friends of Beth’s when the court ordered supervised visitations. Others helped Beth prepare for court hearings, studied files together with her.
Nevertheless a campaign based on false assumptions against the Vienna Jewish Community was initiated and a few dozen emails reached the community’s office in the past days regarding the custody battle. I completely understand the compassion and outpour of empathy by many during the ongoing campaign. One can not hear about Beth’s fate without being deeply touched at the same time. I feel her pain.
However, the ruling over the children’s custody is a legal one and has been made by independent Austrian courts. The Jewish Community did not participate in the court case beside the fact many members individually helped her before, during and after the hearings as mentioned above. But no president, no Rabbi and no community official is able to influence or even overrule a court ruling. Any appeal of the current court decision can only be made within the Austrian and European legal framework by the parties involved through presenting further evidence before a judicial authority that could review Beth’s case.
Let’s rally all behind the immediate goal of enabling Beth to participate at her twins upcoming Bar Mitzwot. Due the legal frame explained above, this can only happen with the consent of both parents. This goal can not be achieved by this campaign. In fact an email from Beth herself would have been the best way to get in contact with our community, but she didn’t reach out. Instead a campaign, that has harassed Jewish organizations, employees and members of our Kehilla, and is based on false claims and assumptions about the Vienna Jewish Community has been started. It is jeopardizing both, the immediate goal mentioned above, as well as any solution that would benefit all parties involved and bring Beth closer to her sons.
Nevertheless I continue to strive for solutions in this matter. Therefore I have reached out to Beth’s ex-husband last night via phone. He said he never declined Beth attending their sons Bar Mitzwot and is still willing her to see the boys within a framework both need to commit to. I myself and our community will continue to assist achieving this immediate goal. Let’s focus all together to make this happen.
The former chief rabbi of Vienna has pledged to reunite Manchester-born Beth Alexander with the twins from whom she has been alienated for five years.
In a dramatic intervention, Rabbi Moshe Friedman, who claims to have won many cases by representing victimised plaintiffs in the Austrian courts, travelled to Vienna this week after hearing of her plight.
And, in a further development yesterday, the community’s lay and religious leaders contacted British chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis after becoming aware of Rabbi Friedman’s involvement and the international outrage following the official launch on Sunday of a Facebook support group.Alleging cover-ups, corruption, coercion and interference in Ms Alexander’s case, Rabbi Friedman says that his involvement will send shockwaves through the legal establishment, the social services, the education department and the Vienna Jewish community.
He added that the latter feared his involvement in cases and described it as “a game changer”.“The community fear me. This is their worst case scenario,” he insisted.Rabbi Friedman, 50, had been moved by Ms Alexander’s plight after reading the Jewish Telegraph’s account of a court decision to bar her from any contact with her 12-year-old twins Sammy and Benji.
Their father, Dr Michael Schlesinger, has sole custody of them in Vienna. The couple married in 2006, separating three years later.Rabbi Friedman immediately set the wheels in motion by issuing a petition to the court for full custody to be switched to Ms Alexander, 37.
Rabbi Friedman, who himself won a landmark case against the Vienna Jewish community and the school which his children attended, is well known for his feisty determination to right wrongs he believes to have been committed against innocent parties. And in a damning indictment of Vienna Jewry, Rabbi Friedman, who says he is of independent means and will ensure that Ms Alexander will not face any legal costs, insisted that the entire infrastructure of the community has been working against her.He claimed: “They did it because she was British.
If anything at all happens, divorce for instance, they do everything to get rid of that foreign element. The other party just waives their rights.“They did everything to break her. Beth’s resistance fighting for her children has never happened before.
She had the guts.”Brooklyn-born Rabbi Friedman, who has Austrian and Belgian citizenship, previously fought another case successfully, involving a get that he was able to have reversed.And he gained visitation rights for the father who had not sought custody.
During this week’s visit to Vienna, he had “intensive meetings” with senior officials from the Ministry of Education and the social services departments in both the district where Ms Alexander had lived and that where Dr Schlesinger now has his home.
He said that the former had wished Beth and the children “great success” and congratulated him on his involvement, adding that she knew the facts of the case intimately.“She says she thinks Beth will be successful,” he said. “When I step in to cases, it’s a game-changer. That’s why she was laughing.
“Everyone knows me, because when there is anything related to the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde (IKG, the representative organisation of Vienna Jewry), or corruption, my name will always come into it.
“It’s also known that I win each and every case myself against them.“Before I was there, it was taboo. It was not possible to win a court case against the Kultusgemeinde. It was a taboo I have broken. Judges were extremely scared even to touch them.
“At the end of the day, not all are bad, but it’s a very corrupt system. So they’re saying between them, ‘let’s be on the side of the strong Kultusgemeinde’. All are afraid of them.
“‘Why should we help an innocent British lady? Let’s go with the strong one and get rid of her’.
”Rabbi Friedman said he knew psychiatrists well who had been involved in the the most high profile cases in Austria of kidnappings, children held hostage and abuse and even they had been shocked by the corruption in Ms Alexander’s case.
He alleged: “In addition to robbing the children of Beth, there is a cover up going on here because they are robbed of the contact from the outside world.
“The courts invited the children in and made a kind of theatre, talking with them a little bit and said something they didn’t say.
“I saw what the children said and the social services refused to get involved in the case. I will highly recommend that a court-commissioned psychologist should be appointed to go deeply into the issue, which the court didn’t do, and was the minimum they had to do.
“I am going to file an application at federal level and the highest level of the government of Austria and the paediatric department of the minister himself, as well as at the health department, given the age of the children and the danger of the situation, because there might be irrevocable damage to the children.
”Rabbi Friedman insists that there was Jewish communal pressure to have the case closed.
He declared: “The community is extremely powerful and corrupt. Everyone is afraid because they use historical elements as a blackmail tool. This is what’s going on.
“There’s a cover up. That’s what I say for sure. There is a cover up here. They’re not only robbing the children of their mother, they’re robbing the children of their basic minimum rights. That’s a disaster.
”The initial hearing will be for directions, but Rabbi Friedman said it was conceivable that the presiding judge could allow Ms Alexander visitation rights before the main hearing at which she will be seeking full custody of the twins.
He concluded: “I am quite confident that this will happen. At the very least I will get her equal visitation rights, because there’s been such a miscarriage of justice. Usually I give less promises.
”On Sunday, a campaign was launched by Telegraph editor Paul Harris on Facebook Live, with the support group being renamed ‘Reuniting Beth with her Boys’.
A video featured a poignant personal plea from Ms Alexander, with contributions, too, from Chief Rabbi Mirvis, Dr Matthew Offord MP and Naomi Dickson, CEO of Jewish Women’s Aid.
Mr Harris told viewers: “When I offered to introduce tonight’s video and launch the campaign, Beth asked me whether I would be compromising my editorial impartiality by so doing.
“I am not impartial in his case. I am four square behind Beth and will continue to campaign editorially and personally until Beth has her children home with her and so that she can lavish on them the love and care of which they have been deprived for a decade.
”He recalled how he had first met Ms Alexander and her twins more than eight years ago in a Vienna hotel lobby.
“I had decided to investigate for myself what was being termed a tug-of-love story, but which, quite frankly, I didn’t really believe, feeling that both parties must be at least equally to blame,” he said.“I was soon disabused of that notion. I was immediately struck by how careworn and exhausted she appeared.
“I was equally aware of the lethargy of the two boys who just sat there without saying a word, or attempting to tear around as most lively four-year-olds would.
”He added: “The interview I did with Beth that afternoon in November, 2013 was the start of a friendship between us, not as a journalist and a subject, but as a human being who wanted to right a dreadful wrong perpetrated against a young mother by an uncaring, xenophobic Jewish community and an apparently corrupt legal system supported by equally flawed social services, both of which were content to deprive a loving, caring mother of her inalienable right to raise her two sons and grant custody to a husband who had been abusive towards her.
“Parental alienation is something shocking, but that is what Beth suffered, nearly 1,000 miles from her family and friends in Manchester, and with visitation rights of just a few hours a week.
“And that alienation continues until now on an even more insidious scale.“I do not accept the testimony allegedly given to the court by the twins, that they did not want any contact with their mother whatsoever.
“I know that cannot possibly be true and the only way they could have made such statements would have been as a result of malign coercion.
”The Facebook group already has 5,000 followers and messages of support for Ms Alexander flooded in from throughout the world.
Followers were asked to email their protests to Oskar Deutsch, president of the Vienna Jewish community, which they did in their hundreds.
An overwhelmed Ms Alexander told the Jewish Telegraph last night: “The campaign launch went even better than hoped. The letters to Oskar Deutsch have been flooding in faster than we can read them.
“The eloquence and empathy of people’s words have moved us to tears. Each letter is more impassioned than the next.
“Rabbi Friedman taking on my case is nothing short of a miracle. To finally have someone who understands the intrigues and machinations of that murky place is exactly what was needed.
“Rabbi Friedman’s backing, together with the eyes of the world watching and demanding justice, makes my heart skip for Sammy and Benji.
“I close my eyes and communicate with them in the only way I’m able — telepathically.
“‘Stay brave and strong, my darlings’, I say. ‘So many people care about you and want the best for you’.
“And then I allow myself the luxury of hope and dare to believe that this nightmare is ending.
”The Jewish Telegraph has approached Mr Deutsch for comment.
A major global campaign was launched this week to support the bid of the family lawyer Beth Alexander to be reunited with her twin sons, Samuel and Benjamin.
The two boys live in Vienna with Ms Alexander’s ex-husband, Dr Michael Schlesinger, whom she has been fighting in the Vienna courts after the breakdown of their short marriage.
Despite repeated attempts to gain regular and normalised access or visitation rights, Ms Alexander, a British citizen, has had minimal success in the Austrian courts. Last summer, she was able only to see her sons for one brief, supervised visit, for the first time in five years. Dr Schlesinger has successfully argued that she is mentally ill and unfit to take care of their sons, who are now 12 and approaching their barmitzvah in June this year.
Ms Alexander said she had an estimated 5,000 supporters who were “itching” to help her. She also has the backing from Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Hendon MP Matthew Offord and Jewish Women’s Aid.
The case has been in and out of the Vienna court system since shortly after the twins’ birth, with different rulings given which have severely affected Ms Alexander’s ability to see or bond with her children on a regular basis.
The latest blow came after she applied for improved access through the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit, but her application was kicked back to the courts. The same judge who originally ruled against Ms Alexander, Judge Susanne Gottlicher, now says it would “not be in the best interest” of the boys for there to be any contact at all with their mother — including phone calls.
Ms Alexander said that her ex-husband had even insisted, at last summer’s short meeting, that Samuel and Benjamin only spoke to her in German. “I speak to them in English but the boys reply in German — and they have said to me, ‘Mamma, English is forbidden’”.
She added: “It was a supervised meeting, so everything was censored and the children were very uncomfortable. It was really a form of abuse: whatever I said, the [supervisor] was listening and would say, oh, you’re not allowed to say that”.
She said that previously the limited access arrangements had worked well, culminating in a “wonderful” holiday that she had been able to have with her sons.
This, she thinks, was the final straw for Dr Schlesinger, who, she claims, “couldn’t bear” the fact that the relationship was working so well. “He went to social services and my access was reduced to just three hours a week.”
Ms Alexander eventually left Vienna in 2016 “because I couldn’t see a way forward”. She returned to Britain and qualified as a solicitor and reignited her campaign to improve her access to the twins — but now all contact has been denied.
Describing her ex-husband as “intimidating” and “a bully”, she said she believed her sons had been scared into telling the court that they did not want contact with her. “He was sitting outside the courtroom”, she said.
Now, as their barmitzvah approaches, Beth Alexander is desperately hoping to bring her sons back to the UK to celebrate here. She said: “The barmitzvah’s in June. Obviously, I’m not included in any of the arrangements and I don’t even know what date it is, or whether I am allowed to attend”. Her supporters, she said, were being asked to contact the president of the Vienna Jewish community, Oskar Deutsch, to protest against the draconian rulings.
Tonight Beth and her supporters will launch a campaign to bring home her 12-year-old twins Sammy and Benjy Schlesinger who are in the sole custody of their father in Vienna, Beth having been banned unjustly from any contact with them In July 2011, the then two-year old twins were suddenly and brutally removed from Beth’s care by order of an Austrian court.
Sole custody was awarded to their father, Dr Michael Schlesinger, despite his having been evicted by police from the family home 18 months earlier and undermining a previous Court ruling for supervised contact.
The dubious custody order dismissed all of Beth’s allegations against the father of violence. In a further irregularity, the order made no provision for contact and it was eight weeks before Beth was able to see her young children again.
Following this, Beth was granted only minimal supervised visitation without any real explanation as to why and thereafter, minimal contact with no overnight stays for four years.
Removing the children from Beth, who had been their primary carer, was based on a discredited psychologist’s report which claimed Beth had reduced parenting abilities.
The Judge in the case, Susanne Gottlicher, admitted that she had been lobbied on behalf of the father by a senior judicial colleague Konstanze Thau. Despite this, Judge Gottlicher continued to rule against Beth throughout the proceedings.
A further court-commissioned psychiatric assessment carried out on Beth by Dr Werner Leixnering overrode all the previous assertions but was simply ignored.
After five years of court hearings, and being separated from her children in Vienna, Beth was isolated, impoverished and deeply distressed. She returned home, to the UK, to study to become a family lawyer so she could continue fighting for her children.
Beth has made every effort to maintain her close bond with her children by continually sending them presents and cards. She calls every week but the father regularly rejects her calls. Last year, Beth reapplied for visitation and fixed phone calls but Judge Gottlicher denied her all contact with her boys.
There has been a total lack of sympathy from the vast majority of Vienna’s Jewish community and its leadership, or even recognition that children need the nurturing and love of their mother.
Rabbi Biderman, the head of the Chabad school that the children attend, supported the father by submitting a testimony in his favour. It was also discovered that Biderman was forwarding Beth’s private emails on to Judge Thau. Witnesses were also heard behind closed doors without notice to Beth’s lawyers.
Sammy and Benji have been denied their mother’s love, with all the damage this continues to cause. If you missed tonight’s Facebook Live, it is still available to replay.
“We uphold legal certainty and stability under the rule of law, guarantee an independent administration of justice, act in a socially responsible manner fully respecting fundamental rights and human rights, and so ensure that Austria is an attractive business location with a sound justice system.”
These are extracts from Susanne Gottlicher the “impartial” judge’s report concerning her personal “investigation”This visit took place in 2015 after the mother reported her concerns about the Filipino nanny who the children were often left alone with for the whole of Shabbos while the father worked. Furthermore, she could barely speak German or English.The judge however was satisfied there were no concerns and shortly after the visit, she awarded Schlesinger full and final custody.
When we arrive, in addition to the father and the two boys, the father’s sister, Martina Schlesinger,
and the nanny are present.
We are greeted heartily and asked to come in. I introduce Ms Andesner and the father urges the
children to shake hands with us. We are ushered into the living room. The rooms I see are neat and
tidy but not sterile. The flat looks as if it is lived in and does not resemble the showroom of a
We sit down on the couch in the living room, where I again discuss the purpose of today’s visit:
the (recent) youth welfare office (Jugendamt) report made no mention of the mother’s accusations
regarding the nanny. The latter is introduced to us and sits down in an armchair beside the couch.
She is a woman in her fifties who does not speak perfect German but with whom I can easily
I am given an explanation as to how the nanny came to the Schlesinger family:
They got to know each other in a park where the family often goes. The Schlesingers noticed how
the nanny was getting on with an Italian child she was caring for – a boy from an Italian Embassy
family. The nanny was so sweet with the boy that the twins’ aunt went up to her and asked if she
might not have time to take care of Sammy and Benji as well. The nanny has now been with the
Schlesingers for four years. She nodded as she heard this, confirming it…
…The father explains the following to me regarding the boys’ teeth:
When the boys came into his custody, they had objectively proven bad teeth and this fact was
common knowledge. At that time, teeth had to be extracted. The gaps in the teeth were provided
with temporary replacements….
…In the course of the conversation, the boys proudly show me and Ms Andesner the gaps in their
teeth: they are already so big that new, permanent teeth are on the way…
The father explained that the children love going to therapy and really enjoy it. They are very fond
of their occupational therapist, Ms Martina Muckler, and her approach of working through
pleasure and play is the most effective for success in learning and therapy.
In reply to my question, he answered that he would of course not subject the boys to unnecessary
…Later, Benji goes and gets some pastries from the plate we have been offered. His father tells
him in a friendly manner to take a plate….afterwards, he comes in with a soft toy that looks like a
snake. It resembles a folded strap that is straight at first but when tapped against the lower arm,
rolls into the shape of a wristband. It is covered with fabric and has a snake’s head at the top. He
lets his snake eat from the pastries. We join in the game and when it is over, the snake is allowed
to drink from my glass of water…
…The accusation that the father acted violently on the occasion of a court hearing and pushed the
mother on the steps of the court is absolutely untrue….
The father again praises the nanny and states, “There is no one else outside the family circle that I
would trust to take care of the children without hesitation.”
In this atmosphere, it is described how the nanny still comes in the morning to assist the father
before work, and how she does the housework and sometimes cooks. She is no longer there in the
afternoons or evenings, except perhaps two or three times per week, when the father is on night
duty in the hospital.
…Our house visit lasts one and a quarter to one and a half hours. My impression is that of a nice,
[A “guardian” is a court-appointed official who has the sole responsibility of representing the childrens’ interests, independently of either of the parents. Any contact between the guardian and the children is expected to take place without the presence of either parent.]
Parental Alienation is very hard to understand unless you have experienced it firsthand. It is a slow insidious process whereby the abusive parent drip feeds the child to hate and distrust the loving parent. The innocent child who has been ‘trauma bonded’ to their abuser is made to feel a traitor if they express love or wish for contact with their loving parent. They will be punished for doing so.
Besides for the fact our last meeting [between Beth and the twins] took place under close supervision and every word was censored.
The family courts and social services are ignorant, untrained or support the alienation for their own agendas. Thus, the abusive parent achieves their aim: to gradually erase the loving parent from the child’s life.
They do not return at 18 because the damage has been done.
UK woman can’t have contact with twin sons, 12, after Austrian court ruling
Solicitor Beth Alexander loses bid to see her children in latest instalment of long-running saga, with judge ruling it would ‘not be in their best interests’
January 6, 2022, 5:03 pm
A British Jewish woman has been told that she is to have no contact with her 12-year-old twin sons as a result of a new ruling by an Austrian court.
Beth Alexander, now a London-based family law solicitor, has been fighting her ex-husband, Dr Michael Schlesinger, in the Vienna courts, after the breakdown of their short marriage and the birth of the twins, Samuel and Benjamin.
After numerous unsuccessful court appearances — and even a debate in the House of Commons in 2014 — Ms Alexander decided to leave Vienna in 2016, in despair at her ex-husband’s alleged refusal to comply with even partial access or visitation rights.
She claimed psychological and physical abuse took place during their marriage; he denied this, but insisted she was mentally ill and thus unfit to take care of their sons, and was awarded sole custody by an Austrian judge, Susanne Gottlicher.
Ms Alexander’s appeals to the Austrian Jewish community did not succeed, either: she said because Dr Schlesinger was a man, and native-born, the community had “closed ranks” around him, rather than believe her, a British-born woman.
Incentivised by Brexit, Ms Alexander renewed her campaign on behalf of access to her sons through an independent body, the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit. It was established to enforce the Articles of the 1996 and 1980 Hague Convention.
But the case was kicked back to the Austrian courts, and the same judge who originally ruled against her, Judge Gottlicher, has now ruled that it would “not be in the best interests” of the children for her to have any contact with them.
It was also reported by the JC, that Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis went on a secret ‘mercy mission’ to Austria in 2018, in a bid to help Beth Alexander.
The Chief Rabbi has revealed nearly three years on details of his flying visit to Vienna to attempt to resolve the plight of Manchester tug-of-love mother Beth Alexander.
His decision follows the mass outrage and outpouring of support for her, after the Jewish Telegraph story last week about an Austrian court’s decision to bar all access to her 12-year-old twins who live with their father Dr Michael Schlesinger in Vienna.
She is even banned from involvement in arrangements for their barmitzvahs. Ms Alexander, 37, who separated from Dr Schlesinger in 2011, relocated to London from the Austrian capital in 2016 to embark on a law degree. She has since qualified as a solicitor. Ms Alexander, pictured below, who married in 2006, has alleged that her husband subjected her to psychological terror and physical violence throughout their short marriage.
Following a series of decisions that she dubbed “dubious”, Beth launched a media campaign and lobbied British MPs.In 2018, Chief Rabbi Mirvis, fulfilling a promise to Ms Alexander to do anything in his power to assist her plight, flew to Vienna with a delegation and met communal leaders, including Rabbi Jacob Biderman, who heads Chabad there.The Jewish Telegraph was aware at the time of Rabbi Mirvis’s secret mission, during which he also met the Schlesinger twins, Samuel and Benjamin, at a Jewish summer camp they were attending.
Rabbi Mirvis apparently was moved to tears during that meeting. His spokesman told Ms Alexander he had never previously seen Rabbi Mirvis thus affected.The Chief Rabbi said; “One cannot fail to be moved by Beth’s plight.“This latest setback adds yet another layer to a longstanding injustice.
”Rabbi Mirvis’s spokesman confirmed last night that they had decided to go public following last week’s Jewish Telegraph story.
They had decided to keep details of the visit private until now for fear of Ms Alexander being accused of seeking publicity over it, thereby aggravating her situation.Rabbi Mirvis flew to Vienna at Ms Alexander’s request after all options had been exhausted.
Rabbi Mirvis has pledged to remain in contact with her and will discuss the case further with her later this month.Ms Alexander, who had entertained renewed hope following Brexit and sought to reopen the case for a retrial, was shocked last month when her application for indirect and direct contact with her sons, was rejected by a local Austrian district court, presided over by the same judge, Susanne Gottlicher, who had made the initial highly contested decision to remove the children from Beth’s care and control to award sole custody to the father.
The original application had been made via the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU), which was established to enforce the Articles of the 1996 and 1980 Hague Convention. Ms Alexander and those close to her are at a loss to understand what has persuaded the courts that a loving mother is somehow a danger to her own children, particularly since, on one occasion during their marriage, Dr Schlesinger was removed from their home by police after he tried falsely to have her committed.
Those who know her are incredulous that the court had been told that the twins “do not have good memories” of their last contact with Beth.Last week’s Jewish Telegraph story was viewed tens of thousands of times on social media, with hundreds of comments posted supporting Ms Alexander.
She told the Jewish Telegraph last night: “I am flabbergasted by the huge groundswell of support. Tanya Duman, a stranger who has never met me or my family, read the JT article and immediately set up a Facebook group which has been joined by thousands of well-wishers.“
I want to say a massive thank you to the huge number of people who have reached out personally to extend their support and those who have backed us by joining the group. “Perhaps the most shocking and disturbing aspect to come out of all this is just how widespread and far reaching post separation abuse is. “Mothers, in particular, have been sending me messages from all over the world to share their chillingly parallel experiences of family court. “I realise that most are too ashamed to publicise it because of the stigma of being a mother who has had her child taken away from her. “Equally, many men find themselves grieving for estranged children through no fault of their own.
”Ms Alexander, who has always insisted that the religious community of Vienna closed ranks to support her ex-husband, added that it was “a secret scourge” experienced by loving and protective parents all over the world, “who are being dragged through the courts and denied access to their children by a certain type of vindictive ex-partner”.
She added: “It goes further than that. As if being deprived of your right to see your own child isn’t bad enough, the alienator often then seeks to poison the child’s mind against the alienated parent so that the child is manipulated to no longer want the other parent in their life. “Many people have tried to console me by saying once my boys come of age they will come to seek me out themselves, but that misses the point. “There is a serious lack of understanding even in the courts and social services about parental alienation and its devastating impact on both parent and child.
“If I can at least use my tragic case to highlight this underreported issue, then I will be able to assign some meaning to our crippling suffering.” Ms Alexander says that she has lost all faith in the Austrian legal system.See the Jewish Telegraph’s Facebook page for some our our previous stories on this issue, including how history repeated itself for Beth’s former father-in-law.
There is something rotten afoot in the beautiful city of Vienna. The Austrian capital, renowned over hundreds of years for its culture, is the scene of a true life drama, stranger than fiction and more tragic than some of the productions that have graced the Wiener Staatsoper, one of the world’s leading opera houses.
The Jewish Telegraph has reported for nearly a decade on the case of Manchester-born mother Beth Alexander and her abortive attempts, through the Auistrian courts, to gain custody of her twin boys. The latest saga, featured in last week’s edition, saw her barred entirely from any access to the children, in person, by phone, via video-link or even by letter.
None of this has ever made sense to those acquainted with the case, or even those who have learned of it via the media. There might have been some justification for the ever-worsening decisions by the Austrian judiciary had Ms Alexander been a habitual criminal, a drug addict or an alcoholic. Even they, though, in this country at least, are often allowed some access to their offspring, if they do not have custody. Ms Alexander is a Cambridge graduate who is a family lawyer herself.
There has been the suggestion that someone has got at those who have continually thwarted Ms Alexander’s efforts at least to be able to see her now 12-year-old twins. But every court decision appears to have been worse than the previous one. Is it any wonder that, following our story last week, there has been mass horror expressed over her predicament? While all the exposure is useful, because it keeps the case in the public eye, that alone will not bring justice for Ms Alexander.
There are those within the Viennese Jewish community who appear to have protected one of their own and have even given evidence or briefed against her. On the whole, the rabbinate there has behaved reprehensibly in not protecting this innocent young mother.It is now incumbent on those with any authority within world Jewry to bring pressure on religious leaders in Vienna to force the twins’ father to allow his former wife at least to see her children, as a starting point. How can judges in a democratic country not see the evil of parting a mother from her children in this way? This story is rotten to the core.
The Chief Rabbi secretly flew to Austria in an unprecedented mercy mission to help a British mother at the centre of a decade-long custody battle, the JC can reveal.
Moved by the plight of Cambridge graduate Beth Alexander, 37, who has seen her 12-year-old twin sons just once in person in the past five years, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis led an unpublicised delegation to Vienna to directly appeal to her former husband and local Jewish leaders.
Desperate to try to effect change on her behalf, the Chief Rabbi vowed that if what it took was him getting on a plane and going in person, he would do so.
In an extraordinary step, Rabbi Mirvis spent time with her twins, who were on a summer camp at their Jewish school, assessing their welfare and sending photographs back to Ms Alexander, who at that time — 2018 — had not seen them in two years.
The rabbi’s delegation offered to meet Ms Alexander’s ex-husband, doctor Michael Schlesinger, 42, but he allegedly refused. Instead they sat down with communal head Rabbi Biderman and raised Ms Alexander’s case, including her desire for the Austrian Jewish community to put pressure on Mr Schlesinger.
But while community leaders expressed sympathy, they told the British delegation they were powerless to intervene.
Ms Alexander told the JC that after the couple had separated, she felt the Austrian Jewish community had closed ranks around Dr Schlesinger.
After years of failed attempts to secure custody and meaningful contact through the Austrian legal system, Ms Alexander had high hopes for a new application by her that delivered its verdict last week.
But the court denied her application for contact in its entirety — a verdict that she says took her to “breaking point”.
In his first public statement on the affair, the Chief Rabbi told the JC this week: “One cannot fail to be moved by Beth’s plight … This latest setback adds yet another layer to a longstanding injustice and Beth should remain in all of our prayers.”
In summer 2018, two years after Ms Alexander was stripped of the visitation rights for which she had spent four years battling, she had lost faith in any legal resolution and agreed that Rabbi Mirvis should go to Vienna, accompanied by former Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush, a longstanding champion of Ms Alexander.
Chief Rabbi Mirvis’s intervention was kept under wraps, for fear that the mother would be accused of seeking publicity.
Following the visits, the team continued to correspond with Dr Schlesinger both directly and via an intermediary for many months to try to secure opportunities for Ms Alexander to speak to her sons, but made little progress.
“We wanted to negotiate diplomatically behind the scenes because I find it all so humiliating, this shouldn’t be a matter of public exposure,” said Ms Alexander. “But I think now’s the time to tell.”
Since 2016, she has only seen her sons in person once, for a short, supervised visit last summer that she told the JC was “very traumatic, very painful”.
“They were a bit estranged from me,” she said. “I cried my eyes out when I left, it almost broke me.”
She was informed by the court last month that “a right of contact as requested by the mother is not in the best interests of the children”.
The relationship was left to the discretion of their father, who she claims has blocked her from regular calls or video chats with her sons.
Speaking this week, Ms Alexander expressed gratitude to the Chief Rabbi for attempting to reunite her with her sons, and urged the wider British Jewish community to support her campaign.
Last year Ms Alexander took her case to the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit and her expectation was it would be heard by a different judge.
Ms Alexander had halted her legal fight after the 2016 ruling, seeking to rebuild her life in the UK.
“I was being pushed the to the brink. I think had I stayed in Vienna I wouldn’t have survived,” she said.
She knew the odds might be against her in the latest application. “But if there was one last avenue open to me to gain access to my children, I had to try it. I need to be able to look them in the eyes one day and tell them that I tried absolutely everything in my power.”
But she found herself thwarted, even after travelling to Austria to give evidence despite Covid restrictions.
Her initial application requested holidays together in England. She then amended this to offer to fly to Vienna for bi-monthly visits.
“I told the judge I just want a regular fixed day for phonecalls since he constantly blocks my calls,” she claimed.
“I insisted how important it is to be part of their lives in the build up to their barmitzvah, how much they’re going to need the emotional support of their mother through their teenage years, I said I want and need to be there for them.”
The Vienna court’s ruling, issued on 14 December, set out Ms Alexander’s requests for “an ongoing right of contact” of two 15-minute conversations a week, and the right to regular unaccompanied personal contact with the twins, including during holidays.
But it also said that a 2016 offer of accompanied visits for two hours a week at a supervised contact centre — “which the mother has yet to name” — had been revoked at Ms Alexander’s request.
Judge Göttlicher said Dr Schlesinger had “not committed a breach of the mother’s right of contact”, and that the children had “developed a decisive willingness against such contacts, as well as against holiday contacts in Austria”.
While the document recorded Ms Alexander’s position “that this willingness is influenced by the father and his family”, the judge said the court had concluded “that the children have based their opposition on their real experiences”.
She added that the boys “do not have good memories” of their recent trip to see Ms Alexander.
The latest ruling explained the 2016 custody decision by citing Dr Schlesinger’s fear that Ms Alexander “would take advantage of the contacts in order to once again initiate the media campaign”, or even “keep the children back during visits to Great Britain”.
However, it also noted that Ms Alexander’s new application repeated previous accusations that she had been treated badly by the father and “had seen no other way than to withdraw from Austria”.
It recorded her statement that “the father only allowed sporadic calls at his whim” and “used the children as a means to exert power and control over her”. In contrast, Dr Schlesinger told the court that he allowed regular contact.
Despite her harrowing experiences, Ms Alexander has not given up.
Her message to her sons is this: “Mama loves you so, so much, I’ll never stop fighting for you. I’m waiting to bring you home.”