Beth says her father-in-law was also estranged
from his son and daughter for the past 30 years
Love-tug family’s history repeats itself
TUG-of-love mother Beth Alexander claims that her bitter struggle for custody of her twins is almost a parallel tragedy to that endured by her father-in-law.
EXCLUSIVE BY PAUL HARRIS IN VIENNA
He is now backing her legal fight against his own son.
Mancunian Beth, 29, has been fighting a decision of the Austrian courts to grant custody to her husband Dr Michael Schlesinger from whom she is divorced only in Jewish law. Speaking to me in Vienna, she described how she only sees her beloved four-year-olds Samuel and Benjamin each Tuesday for six hours. The twins can visit her flat but not stay the night. She also sees them on two Sundays a month.
But Beth now claims that Michael’s mother threw her husband Abraham (Jonny) Mandel out of the family home when her son was three and barred any future contact with him or his sister.
She even reverted to her maiden name, Schlesinger.
Only when Beth separated from her husband after three years did she decide to make contact with the father-in-law she had never met and from whom his son had been estranged for 30 years. From him she heard a chilling, all-too-familiar tale. She introduced him to the grandchildren he never knew he had and he spent happy hours with them until his furious son was granted a court order forbidding any further contact.
Beth said: “He wept when we met. He said that a miracle had come true beyond his wildest dreams. “This father was a simple man with simple wishes. He did not desire riches or pursue unrealistic aspirations. “He did not fight for custody nor did he wrangle for assets. “His only wish was to attain the inalienable right of every parent to see his children and play a role in their lives. “He was denied that as the court battle dragged on for 10 years. “He lost everything, including, at times, his will to live.
“Without emotional or financial support and with nowhere to turn, this father was left a broken man.” He never remarried nor enjoyed the pleasure of parenthood. Beth told me: “It was almost word for word identical to my own experience. “Suspicious psychological reports, dubious professional statements, irregular court decisions and questionable tactics which caused immeasurable psychological damage.”
She added: “My father-in-law said that as far as he’s concerned, his son is dead.”
Beth, who is constantly fighting what she insists is the false stigma that she has psychological problems, is forced to pay a woman at a contact centre 44 Euros for a supervised handover of the twins on the days she has access. She is not allowed to pick up her children at her husband’s home nor return them to him at her flat.
Beth insists that a flawed psychiatric report on her from three years ago that suggested she was mentally ill has been debunked by two further reports, which the court has chosen to ignore.
The court decreed that since the children were faring so well they should remain with their father. Beth disputes that their welfare needs are being met, pointing to Benji’s teeth which she insists are rotten, claiming that at the age of three he had been fitted with a false tooth which had now fallen out. Sammy’s four front teeth were extracted just before his third birthday, nine months after their father was awarded custody.
Beth claims that they were kept down a year in kindergarten and have only just been toilet trained. “I sat down with them to play a game but they didn’t know how because it seems no-one has the patience to do anything with them,” she said. “They love coming to me and run straight into my arms.”
She maintains that the children are traumatised by their ordeal, barely speaking and stunted in their development. She believes that the twins are cared for by two Filipino helpers but admits sadly: “I have no idea who looks after them when Michael’s not there.”
Beth, a Cambridge graduate in Oriental Studies, who married Dr Schlesinger in 2006 following an eight-month whirlwind romance after meeting in Paris, claims that he attempted to have her committed to a mental hospital only for police to remove him from the family home. She expressed her gratitude to a paramedic that day who “saved my life” by calling for an independent psychiatric assessment after concluding that Beth did not appear to have any mental health issues.
A report a year later, commissioned by the court, suggested that Beth was incoherent, inarticulate, had disjointed thoughts and was paranoid because she maintained that Michael was violent towards her. She claims that an IQ test was conducted in German which resulted in the conclusion that her responses were too slow. The previous night, she said, she had been up looking after the twins who were suffering teething problems. And an observation test on the twins when they were 14 months old, she claims, was carried out in a room where the temperature reached 40 degrees and Beth was constantly having to give water to the twins. She was labelled insecure because of that.
She maintains that the psychologist branded her an irresponsible mother because she took the children to puppet shows and to the park each day “when they needed intensive therapy”. She says that during a 10- hour hearing in June 2011 she was allowed only one 10-minute break.
Last week she appealed to the Austrian Supreme Court to overturn the custody ruling. Beth told of how, without the physical, emotional and financial support of her parents, Anthony and Sylvia Alexander, of Crumpsall, Manchester, she could not have coped. “They stayed with me for 18 months and gave up their lives,” she said. “Financially, it’s crippling,” added Beth who is forced to eke out a living by teaching English at university and at language institutes.
The Jewish Telegraph has made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to contact Dr Schlesinger, but yesterday his sister, Tina, offered the opportunity to present her family’s response, told me: “You wrote already so many lies in your newspapers. This is so serious. I don’t want anything to do with you.
“Please leave us alone. It has nothing to do with the newspaper. It is a regular thing of the court. Don’t call us again or do I have to call the police?”
ABRAHAM MANDEL (JONNY’S) STORY
I feel like a traitor to my father-in-law
BETH ALEXANDER describes her emotional encounters with her children’s estranged paternal grandfather
JUST over 30 years ago another equally acrimonious divorce played out in the Viennese courts.
Then, like now, two innocent children were entangled in an ugly legal fray. The children were just three and five years old when they lost their father.
It was not that he died or abandoned his children. He paid for their upkeep and loved them as much as any parent who lives for their children’s happiness and well-being.
This father was a simple man with simple wishes. He did not desire riches or pursue unrealistic aspirations. He did not fight for custody nor did he wrangle for assets.
His only wish was to attain the inalienable right of every parent to see his children and play a role in their lives.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be. The father was thrown out of the family home and with the exceptions of a handful of occasions, never saw his children again.
The court battle dragged on for an interminable 10 years during which time the father suffered hours, days and months of torment, unbearable grief and unspeakable anguish.
He lost everything, including at times his will to live.
Without emotional or financial support and with nowhere to turn, this father was left a broken man. Bereft of his children and without any support, he was inconsolable.
After his painful experiences, he didn’t have the courage to remarry and never had the pleasure of being a parent since he wasn’t fortunate enough to have more children of his own.
His two children grew up without him, alone with their mother and maternal grandparents. The children even changed their surnames to their mother’s maiden name. They obliterated all reference to their father from their lives, including the son’s second Hebrew name (the name of his paternal grandfather).
The little boy became a man and married. His father wasn’t informed and of course wasn’t invited to his wedding. The groom later became a father himself.
His wife begged him to contact his own father, to meet him and get to know him. To hear the other side of the story and perhaps discover something about himself in the process. To fully understand himself, she tried to convince him, he needed to know where he came from and form his own adult opinions.
But alas, her husband vehemently silenced her and shouted her down. He sobbed uncontrollably at the mere mention of his father’s name and made her swear never to bring up the subject again. The wife, seeing he was adamant, acquiesced with his demands and against her better judgement, never spoke on the topic again.
Despite her curiosity, she respected her husband’s wishes and never attempted to contact him herself behind her husband’s back. That was, until her own marriage irretrievably broke down and she felt compelled to go in search of answers to so many of the burning questions about her husband’s past that had continually plagued her during her own unhappy marriage.
Tremulously, she found out her father-in-law’s phone number and one day, with trembling hands, plucked up the courage to call him. With baited breath she told him the reason for her call: “I am your daughter-in-law. I am contacting you because I am getting divorced from your son.” She was met with silence at the other end of the phone. “Are you ok?” she gently asked the obviously shaken man. “I need to call you back,” he replied and abruptly hung up.
Within 10 minutes her father-in-law called back apologetically. He was overcome with shock and was left speechless at this unexpected turn of events, he told her. He wanted to meet her immediately. They arranged to meet the same day a few hours later.
It was an emotional meeting. They hugged and kissed and stared at each other in stunned curiosity. So many questions and so many gaps to fill.
“You’re a grandfather to twin boys,” she gushed at him. The man’s eyes filled with tears and he was overcome with emotion. “For 30 years I was denied access to my son and now I find out that I have grandchildren that I might have never known about!” he exclaimed.
She was delighted at his excitement and imparted the even better news: “Well, now you will know them and I want them to know you too and have their second grandfather in their lives.” Too excited to wait even until the morning, the man came to see his sleeping grandchildren. As the mother beckoned him into their peaceful nursery and he approached their cots, the warm little bundles inside stirred.
They woke up for milk and the grandfather set eyes on his beautiful grandchildren for the very first time. A miracle came true beyond his wildest dreams. After that, he came regularly to visit his grandchildren and they soon developed a tight bond.
Every weekend he took the twins to the park with their mother. Always armed with presents and treats, laughing youthfully and sharing their joy, he displayed endless patience for the little energetic souls that had unexpectedly become such a major part of his life. After so many years of trauma and heartache, finally, this man had found a purpose to live. Spending precious time with his grandchildren restored his hope in goodness and humanity and made him feel young and alive again.
It was a dream come true, he kept repeating.
He had spent years battling tirelessly to see his own children, fighting on in the face of every stumbling block placed in his path, trying to overcome all the endless frustrations and feelings of hopelessness that the family courts inspire.
As he gradually told his sorry story, in weekly instalments, his words sent shivers through the mother of the twins. It was almost word for word identical to her own tragic experiences with her husband. Suspicious psychological reports, dubious professional statements, irregular court decisions and questionable tactics which caused immeasurable emotional scarring.
Finally, after years of physical and emotional exertion, his health pushed to the limit, he made the difficult decision to move on with his life and as hard as it was, try to bury the past and start the healing process. He never expected it to come back to bite him three decades later.
This man is Michael’s father, Sammy and Benji’s grandfather, Abraham (Jonny) Mandel. When Michael discovered that I had made contact with his father he was enraged. He forced me [Beth] to sign an agreement in court banning Jonny from all further contact with his grandchildren. I pleaded with the judge to see sense, told her how much the children loved their grandfather and how we looked forward to his weekly visits. Yet, it was made clear to me, failure to sign the agreement would result in the loss of my own minimal access to the twins.
With a very heavy heart and a stiff reluctant hand, I put pen to paper. I cried for days for what I had done. I felt like a traitor to my father-in-law and an unforgivable accomplice in denying this long suffering man access once again to his closest relatives. To have gone through the pain of losing his children the first time round was tragic enough but I feared a second loss would be too much for him to bear.
I cry that Michael never knew his father and Sammy and Benji may never know their grandfather who loved them and cherished them all the more because of their miraculous unimaginable appearance in his life. It is a crime that this simple pleasure of loving the boys was robbed of him in the later stages of his life. Not only do Sammy and Benji deserve justice but Jonny is entitled to his justice too.
Even 30 years on, it’s never too late to right past wrongs.