Every once in a while, we hear a harrowing story that speaks to the shocking depths of human cruelty. Girl in the Basement is a 2021 production by Lifetime that tells one such story. The film revolves around Elisabeth Fritzl’s captivity and abuse at the hands of her father. Elisabeth spent nearly 25 years imprisoned in a basement by her father Josef Fritzl.
Girl in the Basement is based on a true story. There are additions and omissions, but the film draws from Elisabeth’s true experiences.
This piece will explore the details of Elisabeth Fritzl’s captivity and where she is now.
Elisabeth’s father reportedly raped her more than 3000 times over a 24-year period
Elisabeth had planned to celebrate freedom from her parents on her 18th birthday, but her father Josef had other plans. Josef had converted their basement into a makeshift prison to house Elisabeth for as long as he pleased. He lured Elisabeth into the basement before drugging and chaining her to a bed. Josef then convinced his wife Rosemarie that Elisabeth had run away to join a cult.
Josef showed little sympathy to his captive as he repeatedly raped her and held her in an unhygienic environment. Elisabeth gave birth to seven children during her time underground: Kristen (1998), Stefan (1990), Lisa (1992), Monica (1994), Alexander (1996), Michael (1996), and Felix (2002). Michael died shortly after birth due to Josef’s negligence.
Kerstin, Stefan, and Felix grew up in the basement while Lisa, Monica, and Alexander were raised upstairs. Josef convinced Rosemarie that Elisabeth had sent the children from abroad as she didn’t want to raise them. Underground, Kerstin, Stefan, and Felix were subjected to the same conditions as Elisabeth. To make matters worse, they had to watch as Josef repeatedly molested Elisabeth.
Josef convinced his captives that any attempt to escape would trigger the release of poison into the cellar which would kill them instantly. Elisabeth felt the warmth of the sun on her skin for the first time in more than two decades after Kerstin fell dangerously ill. Concerned for the welfare of the deathly pale girl, authorities petitioned for her mother to visit the hospital.
Shockingly, Josef drove Elisabeth to the hospital, where he told authorities that she’d returned from her sect. Elisabeth told the truth about her experience in the horror bunker on the condition that she would never see Josef again. “No one will believe me” was the first thing she said before spilling the beans.
Elisabeth Fritzl changed her name and lives in an undisclosed location in Austria
Josef Fritzl’s lawyers attempted to portray Josef as a loving father, even as Elisabeth’s 11-hour testimony overwhelmed jurors. The court convicted Josef and sentenced him to life imprisonment in Austria’s Garsten Abbey jail.
The children and Elisabeth needed therapy to restore their mental health after years of captivity. The kids in the basement had physical and mental problems while the kids on top suffered mentally on learning of the siblings’ ordeal. Elisabeth’s children, who currently live under adopted names, will need therapy for the rest of their lives.
Elisabeth eventually won over the three kids she’d given birth to but not raised. She had fallen out with Rosemarie because she believed that Rosemarie could have done more to find out where she was, but they reconciled before Rosemarie passed away in 2012.
Elisabeth Fritzl was granted a new name and identity to guarantee her privacy. She lives in an undisclosed town in Austria with her family and is in a relationship with her former bodyguard Thomas Wagner. The family’s house is specially designed to let in as much light as possible.
Fritzl might have lost the best years of her life in captivity, but she is currently living a full and happy life. The family psychiatrist told Oesterreich:
“This is vivid proof of love being the strongest force in the world. With the approval of her doctors she has ceased psychiatric therapies while she gets on with her life – learning to drive, helping her children with their homework, making friends with people in her locality. She lost the best years of her life in that cellar; she is determined that every day remaining to her will be filled with activity.”