Elisabeth Fritzl is an Austrian woman who survived being held captive by her father, Josef Fritzl, before escaping in 2008. Her story inspired the Lifetime movie The Girl in the Basement. Her father was sentenced to life in prison in 2009. Elisabeth Fritzl, who was raped and assaulted by her father, gave birth to seven children while being held in the basement.
The Lifetime movie The Girl in the Basement was “inspired by actual events” and Elisabeth Fritzl’s story, but the details were changed. The film premiered on February 27, 2021. According to Lifetime, the movie tells the story of Sara, who was imprisoned by her father, Don, before her 18th birthday, and was secretly raped and tortured by him for 20 years after he told his wife and family she had run away. “After decades of captivity, Sara finally escapes, and her family learns the devastating truth about what had been going on for over 20 years right beneath their feet,” according to Lifetime. The movie is set in a town in the United States, instead of Austria.
In the real life horror, Josef Fritzl admitted to holding his daughter captive in their Amstetten home after she escaped, according to The Guardian. Elisabeth Fritzl, born on April 6, 1966, was held in captivity from 1984 until 2008, the newspaper reported. Like in the movie, she had just turned 18 when she was lured into her basement and held there by her father, according to ABC News. She had been abused by her father from when she turned 11, she told police. Josef Fritzl told police and his wife that Elisabeth had run away to live with a friend and possibly joined a religious cult, according to The Independent.
Three of the children she gave birth to were locked in the basement with her, while one died just after birth and the other three were raised by Josef and his wife, Rosemarie, after he told her they were orphans he had found, The Guardian reported. After Elisabeth’s 19-year-old daughter became ill, Josef brought her to the hospital for treatment, raising suspicions, according to Time. He then allowed Elisabeth and her other two children to come out of the basement and told his wife she had returned home after 24 years away, Time reported. But police began investigating and learned about the abuse, and Josef was arrested. A year later, he pleaded guilty to charges of enslavement, incest, rape, coercion and false imprisonment, according to The Guardian. He is still serving his life sentence but was reported in 2019 to be ill, according to a local newspaper, Österreich.
Here’s what you need to know about Elisabeth Fritzl, whose story inspired Lifetime’s The Girl in the Basement:
Elisabeth Fritzl Lives in Austria in a ‘Fortress-Like’ Home With Her 6 Children & She Has Been Reported to Have ‘Found Love’ With Her Bodyguard
After escaping from captivity, Elisabeth Fritzl was reunited with her three children who had been raised upstairs by her parents, according to The Guardian. They received support from a local psychiatric center and lived in a home provided to them. She eventually moved to a “fortress” in a remote Austrian village with her children, according to The Mirror. “With its steel fencing, video cameras, CCTV-operated gate and trees shielding the windows, the family are trying to recover from their dungeon horror. This house has no cellar,” the newspaper reported in 2009.
“Regardless of whether the children were from upstairs or downstairs, the fact is that their world collapsed in April last year. Rebuilding that is a difficult task made worse by the fact that every one of the children have different problems,” Berthold Kepplinger, who led the psychiatric clinic that helped the family, told The Mirror in 2009. “But they are getting stronger week by week.”
According to The Mirror, the three children who were raised upstairs were able to attend normal schools and began to develop a relationship with their mother. The other three children received assistance in adjusting to normal life. The children are all now adults.
In 2019, The Sun reported that Elisabeth Fritzl had “found love” with her bodyguard, Thomas Wagner. A source told The Sun, “They are a couple. Everyone saw from the beginning how secure she felt with him.” The source told the newspaper the relationship gave her “renewed strength.”
Elisabeth Fritzl & Her Mother Have Worked to Repair Their Strained Relationship
Elisabeth Fritzl’s mother, Rosemarie Fritzl, was 17 when she gave birth to her. According The Independent, Elisabeth’s relationship with her mother was strained after she was freed. “She could not believe that her mother had not known the truth, that Rosemarie was not in league with Josef in some way,” the newspaper reported. But years later, they became friends and see each other often, according to The Independent.
Elisabeth Fritzl’s aunt, Christine, told the newspaper, “Whatever suspicion there was has gone.”
Elisabeth Rohm, who directed The Girl in the Basement, told Nicki Swift in a February 2021 interview she “was really moved by Elisabeth Fritzl’s story. I knew a lot about it. I was very motivated to use that as an inspiration. Not necessarily in the script, because, of course, it is an amalgam of several incidents where imprisonment, sexual abuse, incest, physical abuse in the family dynamic were expressed.”
Rohm added, “What the world needs now are stories of hope. And Elisabeth Fritzl, or any woman who survived something like this that makes it out alive and then can continue her life and rise like a phoenix out of the ashes of that abuse, is a story of hope and positivity. It’s very dark, but she’s a survivor. And so I think it’s a beautiful story. It’s a testament to the triumph of the will, really.”
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