true life stories

I thought I could trust my own mother

Monday, October 29, 2007

The world was united in shock when teenager Natascha Kampusch fled to freedom after eight years imprisoned in a cellar. Breaking her silence she talks about her difficulties adjusting to life on the outside — and her feud with her parents.

Held captive in the underground cellar of her kidnapper's home for eight nightmarish years after being snatched from the street on the way to school at the age of 10, the horror of Natascha Kampusch's childhood is simply unimaginable.

Natascha made headlines around the world when she escaped from Wolfgang Priklopil's home-made prison at his home in Austria. While her tormentor took his own life when he discovered she had escaped and realised that the law was closing in on him, the nightmare was far from over for Natascha.

Emerging from her cellar prison in August of last year, wracked with severe anxiety and shyness, Natascha was pale and undernourished with almost no education. At the time, her only possessions were a few dolls and clothes she had left in a bedroom at her mother's council owned flat.

Today, Natascha — whose truly shocking story has reportedly made her millions — couldn't be leading a more different life. Having swapped her cellar prison for a glamorous penthouse apartment, she has been photographed enjoying nights out on the town with the son of her lawyer, whom she was spotted kissing.

Yet all is far from well behind closed doors. Natascha has distanced herself from her parents, who are waging a public war with each other, and is struggling to move on with her life. While her father continues to give interviews for money, her mother has published a book containing Natascha's most intimate secrets, including the fact that she keeps a photograph of her kidnapper's coffin in her hand-bag.

Natascha's father recently sent his daughter an open letter, after she refused to speak to him for months. In the letter, he wrote: "Yes, I talk to the media but it is an old habit that dies hard. After all, I spent eight years begging these people to write or broadcast anything, anything at all, just to keep your story alive in the hope that you were still alive.

"I have not let the media go to my head. The most important thing is, Natascha, that I still wake up and go to bed with the thought that you are there. I still wipe the sleep from my eyes and have to pinch myself to know it is not all a dream. When all is said and done, happy is too weak (a) word to describe this feeling."

Meanwhile, Natascha herself has come under strong criticism for allegedly raising large funds for charity and failing to pass the money on to the needy.

Finally, Natascha talks candidly about her extraordinary life, her shattered relationship with her parents, newfound celebrity status, and the hurdles she continues to face as she somehow tries to come to terms with the horrors of her past.

You had problems with people when you first escaped. How is it now?
I've lost my shyness a bit. And the anxiety has gone away. In the beginning, I was scared when people talked with me, or when I heard a loud noise. Now, it is gradually getting better, although I am still scared of people.

Your kidnapper did terrible things to you. How do you view him now?
I don't think my picture has changed a lot. All I can say is that I pity him more and more as time goes by. I didn't feel that way in the past because it was still happening then. He was a poor soul, lost and misled. What he did to me has moved more and more into the past. It doesn't fade, and sometimes the memories come back, but I am trying my best to cope with the memories and to process them. He tried to manipulate me, to make me the person he would have liked me to be. I partially let him manipulate me, and I partially didn't. To put it another way, I also manipulated him as a countermove. It was sort of like a wrestling match, if you know what I mean — it was a fight.

Can you trust anyone?
Trust? Well, that is a difficult thing. I don't know. I think it is going to take a long time for me to be able to trust someone again. Of course, there are also a lot of people who try to misuse the trust that they have, and that is bad.

Your mother has written a book and is touring Europe. How do you feel about it?
If she wants to. She has to take responsibility for it. Obviously, this is the case, and I can't change it. If my mother wants to be a subject of the media, if my mother wants to be on TV, on the radio and in the press, and if she considers it the right thing to do, then nobody can stop her. I would act differently, for sure, because everybody has his own conscience and everyone has to decide for him or herself what is ethically and morally justifiable, and my mother does the same.

Your mother has written that you said goodbye to Wolfgang Priklopil by the coffin. Why was that so important to you?
First of all, I would like to say something about the fact that that was mentioned in the book. I had the chance to read through the book and to delete, and change, certain passages of the book. But I did not want to change the whole book. Actually, I showed my mother the quoted passage, and I had the feeling I could trust her to do the right thing. I thought that she wouldn't tell anyone else about it. In the book, it says that I showed her a photo. Actually, I showed her a picture I had taken with my mobile phone. But, nevertheless, I left it in the book because I support what I did, and I said goodbye to him [Wolfgang Priklopil] — why shouldn't I have? It was important for me to do that because the last time I saw him was when he turned his back briefly on me, and I ran away. But I only said goodbye to the coffin, I didn't see him again. And I never wanted this to reach the public.

Your mother refers to your father as an alcoholic. How do you feel about that?
Yes, objectively seen, I think it is lacking in respect and inappropriate. Even if this were about a different subject and a different person, one can give somebody a certain name in private, but it should stay there.

How do you feel about your father helping photographers to photograph you?
I think that my father is pretty naive about the media and that he is easily impressed by material things. That is certainly not right, but, well, he has not learned yet … I respect my father, as everyone should respect their parents, but I still don't think that that is the right thing to do. It would be easier for me to adjust to a normal life if my father wouldn't make it so hard for me through media interviews.

What about your supposed boyfriend?
Of course, it would be nice to have a boyfriend (smiles), but it is made up and that is the joke because they (the media) don't know and just make claims.

How was it for you to see the pictures in the paper?
I took it with a pinch of salt. At first, they tried to blackmail me. If I were to give an interview to a paper, then the pictures would disappear. But I did not want to let myself be blackmailed.

Are you really as strong as you always present yourself?
Do I appear to be so strong? Do I present myself as strong? You will never see me cry in public, or see me collapse, sobbing. I settle that in private.

The strength that you show, does that come from a belief that nobody can understand the awful things that have happened to you?
Yes. I always have a problem with myself when it comes to defining the horrible. I do not mean that nobody else can understand what I want to say. All I can say is that there are no words that can define what happened to me. How can you define agony, pain or torture?

Is there anything you really wish for?
I would like other people to treat me with a little more sensitivity and not just start taking pictures of me, but maybe ask beforehand. I don't give autographs. At the airport, a young girl chased me with a little signature book, but I didn't turn around because … I don't give autographs. I am not a superstar, I am not a Hollywood star. I want to be taken seriously and I want the whole case to be taken seriously. I don't want what happened to be ignored and forgotten. It is also possible that a metamorphosis has taken place within me. At first, I was a caterpillar and then I became a butterfly. But not more.

What about claims in the media that you are very rich?
They see me as a celebrity and not as a person, not as a kidnapping victim. They forget that. In any case, I invested the money. I only withdraw a certain amount of it every month to cover my living expenses. I actually don't have more or less than any other person. And I live very modestly. I have to clothe myself, feed myself, pay bills like anybody else. It is a mistake to assume that I live in great luxury.

What's happened to your charity projects?
Well, up until now, nothing has happened. I had to concentrate on myself. But, of course, my intention to help others is still here. The money was put into different donation accounts, my lawyers took care of that. As soon as I have fully regenerated, and I'm on solid ground, I will attend to the relief projects.

Did you ever meet your kidnapper's mother?
No, a meeting hasn't taken place so far.

It's been mentioned that you might want Priklopil's house.
I am entitled to obtain part of Priklopil's estate. Usually, the property and all of the possessions would be sold, but I don't want that to happen. I don't want the house to become a sort of place of pilgrimage or that some weirdo buys the house. I also don't want the house, the dungeon, to get into the wrong hands.

But can you imagine going back to visit the house?
Actually, I have already been back inside the house. I can imagine doing that. The house, basically, is only a setting.

It doesn't scare you?
Well, of course, certain memories arise. When you look at the big concrete block and think 'I was in there, locked up, sometimes in the dark'. If something would have happened to the tormenter, I would have surely starved of hunger and died of thirst — slowly and painfully, and nobody would have ever found my body. Nobody would have ever known what happened and my fate.

Also in this week's Woman's Day:

  • Brave Delta's mum: My cancer battle
The Aussie pop star's mother reveals she is fighting breast cancer
  • Lauren Newton and Matt Welsh: Our baby joy
They were set up on a blind date by her dad Bert newton, now Lauren and Matt are having a baby!
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