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A Four-Star Vienna Hotel, Formerly A Hellish Orphanage

Shock is spreading across Austria where allegations are emerging of systemic violence, sexual abuse and child prostitution dating from the 1970s in Schloss Wilhelminenberg, a Vienna foster home. Some Austrian leaders want to change the statute of limitati

Schloss Wilhelminenberg (Wikipedia)
Schloss Wilhelminenberg (Wikipedia)
Michael Frank

VIENNA - Today, the former Schloss Wilhelminenberg foster home is a four-star hotel. From the terrace, there is a panoramic view of the Vienna woodlands and the city center. But in the 1970s it was a home for so-called "social orphans," children whose families were unwilling or unable to take care of them. If the accounts of a growing number of them are to be believed, it was the orphanage from hell.

So far, accounts by two women, both in their late forties, have been made public. They paint a picture of sexual abuse and daily torture with a racist component – one of the staffers in the home, the women said, used to tell the children that "as Gypsies, you don't have the right to live."

The Austrian daily Kurier reported that children were shown movies and photographs of Nazi concentration camps and told that "dark" people were killed there. "They would then ask us if we understood that we belonged there too because we didn't have a right to live."

Descriptions of beatings, sleep deprivation, and psycho-terror contribute to the suspicion that behind the mass rapes perpetrated by both male staffers and other men at the home lay an organized child prostitution ring. Very young girls were particularly targeted – female staffers used to dress them up in garter belts, and they were forbidden to cut their hair.

An Austrian group called the Weißer Ring that helps victims of violence and sexual abuse, as well as the state prosecutor's office, say that the claims of the alleged victims are credible.

The women said that men from outside the home, as well as staffers who worked in the boys' section, would be let loose in a room of up to 20 girls. "Nobody escaped sexual abuse," according to the women. The suspicion that money changed hands for these sessions seems to match descriptions of the men's sadism. Four men are being investigated, and complaints have also been filed against an unknown number of others.

Four of the five parties in the Austria parliament (only the People's Party opposes it) support either extending statutes of limitations that apply in such cases -- or doing away with such statutes altogether, as it often takes the traumatized victims of such abuse decades before they have the strength to come forward.

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A Naturalist's Defense Of The Modern Zoo

Zoos are often associated with animal cruelty, or at the very least a general animal unhappiness. But on everything from research to education to biodiversity, there is a case to be made for the modern zoo.

Photograph of a brown monkey holding onto a wired fence

A brown monkey hangs off of mesh wire

Marina Chocobar/Pexels
Fran Sánchez Becerril


MADRID — Zoos — or at least something resembling the traditional idea of a zoo — date back to ancient Mesopotamia. It was around 3,500 BC when Babylonian kings housed wild animals such as lions and birds of prey in beautiful structures known as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Ancient China also played a significant role in the history of zoos when the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) created several parks which hosted an assortment of animals.

In Europe, it wouldn't be until 1664 when Louis XIV inaugurated the royal menagerie at Versailles. All these spaces shared the mission of showcasing the wealth and power of the ruler, or simply served as decorations. Furthermore, none of them were open to the general public; only a few fortunate individuals, usually the upper classes, had access.

The first modern zoo, conceived for educational purposes in Vienna, opened in 1765. Over time, the educational mission has become more prominent, as the exhibition of exotic animals has been complemented with scientific studies, conservation and the protection of threatened species.

For decades, zoos have been places of leisure, wonder, and discovery for both the young and the old. Despite their past success, in recent years, society's view of zoos has been changing due to increased awareness of animal welfare, shifting sensibilities and the possibility of learning about wild animals through screens. So, many people wonder: What is the purpose of a zoo in the 21st century?

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