Tony Paterson: In the flesh, all I could think of was the banality of evil

Eyewitness

Josef Fritzl is the world's "Incest Monster" and since his arrest nearly a year ago has gained a reputation comparable to one of the nastier Nazi war criminals.

We have read about his unspeakable crimes and pored over the images of him acting the respectable Austrian businessman and barbecue dad. We have had the unflattering police mugshot, scorched on to our minds as Austria's "face of evil", the face for which everyone was straining for a glimpse behind that blue ringbinder in Austria's Sankt Pölten court this week.

So after all that build-up, the Fritzl I finally witnessed in the flesh yesterday was a bit of a let-down. The experience was like something out of the Nuremberg war crimes trial with its images of once arrogant and pompous Nazi leaders looking deflated, defeated and guilty. Inevitably, the phrase "banality of evil" came to mind.

Fritzl had given up all attempts to hide behind his folder but with his hounds-tooth check jacket and diagonally striped "club" tie, he was clearly trying to give the impression of being the Austrian country squire just in town to do some important business. Yet his face told a different story.

It was that of an old man who looked cornered by the reality of the crimes which he had suppressed for decades and crushed by the shame of being exposed. Fritzl was ashen in colour and looked utterly exhausted. When he spoke, his voice was barely audible. He even showed remorse.

His psychiatrist said that for most of his life, Fritzl was so mentally disturbed that he had pushed all of his emotions into the "cellar of his soul". Yesterday the door to that cellar opened – if only by a chink.

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