In 1988, Marco was 5 when he was picked up by Berlin’s social services after he was hit by a car when crossing a street alone. His father had divorced his mother who worked at a sausage stand and was not able to provide for him. The agency recommended that Marco be placed in a foster home with a “family-like atmosphere.” Marco was assigned to live with a 47-year-old pedophile, Henkel. Some news reports identify him as Fritz H.
Henkel had started fostering children in 1973, in return for a regular care allowance from the government, and it became evident in 1979 that he was a pedophile after a case worker noted that he was in a “homosexual relationship” with one of his foster sons. That prompted a public prosecutor to launch an investigation but it went nowhere after Helmut Kentler intervened on Henkel’s behalf – a pattern that repeats through 800 pages of case files on Henkel.
Kentler, a gay and a pedophile himself, was a renowend psychologist and was often quoted in mainstream newspapers and TV programs. A leading newspaper, Die Zeit, had called him the “nation’s chief authority on questions of sexual education.” Kentler appreciated Henkel’s parenting skills and blamed the caseworker for making “wild interpretations.” The investigation was suspended.
Marco, now a 37-year-old, recalls the horrors he had to experience.
“All you did was fulfil his [Henkel’s] wishes. So, you were isolated from the outside world like in a sect,” he told a journalist last year after the government funded report by the University of Hildesheim came out.
“Everyone had to stay in their rooms. We weren’t allowed to talk to each other. He was good at turning us against each other.”
Marco spent his days playing computer games or watching TV, a habit that to this day forces him to remain indoors and have little to no contact with the outside world.
Henkel ingrained that by design: he would reward Marco with computer games if Marco talked out of turn at school and encouraged him to misbehave resulting in Marco not having any friends. He switched school seven times, which, he believes, was Henkel’s plan.
Two years after Henkel took Marco he was given to care for another boy, Sven who was 7. Authorities had found him at a Berlin train station begging for money and sick with hepatitis.
Marco and Sven never talked to each other about sexual abuse but they knew that Henkel was raping and molesting both of them.
“If you don’t do this, I will send you to a shelter. If you don’t do that, you will be thrown out and you can eat garbage out of the trash again,” was Henkel’s attitude, according to Sven.
“I must say, I wasn’t able to look at myself, to admit to myself: ‘you are also a person, you are worthy of love’ … everyday you have to overcome yourself, fight with yourself and motivate yourself to want to live on. Because when you sit at home at night and all these images, this face, this voice come back to your memory, sometimes you lose the will to live,” Sven, now 37, told news media last year.
Like Marco, Sven has difficulty bonding with people and spends most of his time in what he calls a “fortress of solitude.”
Marco did work as a mailman for a few days but had to quit because whenever a stranger made an expression that reminded him of Henkel, he felt that his heart had stopped and that the world around him had no color except shades of grey. He tried to talk but felt that his voice did not belong to him.
During puberty, Marco started to hate Henkel and made it clear that he will not tolerate abuse anymore. Henkel stopped sexually abusing him but became more severe in his punishments and would lock the kitchen at night so that Marco couldn’t eat. “His greed when eating was noticeable,” Henkel once wrote.
“If you didn’t obey as willingly as he thought you should, there were beatings. He always said he wasn’t hitting us, but the devil within us,” added Marco.
The neighbours were playing loud music one day so Henkel told the boys that he wanted to aim the radioactive waves from microwaves towards the neighbours to give them a heart attack.
Marco’s mother and father tried to contact him or to regain custody but Henkel proved adept at driving a wedge between Marco and his family. At a hearing in 1992, Marco sounded like he was coached when he told the judge that he loves his foster father, whom he called Papa, but not his biological family. He told the judge that he wants his mother to visit only once a year and that “Papa should be there.” During a visit after the hearing, he refused to take his mother’s gift and repeatedly asked her to leave until she reluctantly agreed. The next day, Henkel called social services to say that he would support Marco “in demonstrating his rejection of his mother.”
How was that allowed to happen and that too for decades?
Germany, after the Holocaust, faced a moral reckoning. The testimonies of 22 Auschwitz officers revealed similarities in their personalities: conservative and sexually inhibited.
“I do think that in a society that was more free about sexuality, Auschwitz could not have happened,” wrote the German legal scholar Herbert Jäger.
Sexual emancipation was integral to social justice movements in Europe and was particularly pronounced in Germany “where the memory of genocide had become inextricably—if not entirely accurately—linked with sexual primness,” wrote Rachel Aviv at the New Yorker.
German politicians would brag on national TV without consequences that they want minors to undress them. In the 1960s, educators in 30 German cities had established day-care centers where children were encouraged to be naked and explore each other’s bodies. Around the same time, the Green Party, that brought together antiwar protesters among other activists, advocated for abolishing the age of consent.
Holocaust ended but its reprocussions continued to haunt the German people only this time the victims were homless or neglected children irrespective of their religious affiliations (Marco was born to a Palestinian refugee and a German woman).
The historian Dagmar Herzog responded to this chaos by writing that the fight over sexual mores was a way “to redirect moral debate away from the problem of complicity in mass murder and toward a narrowed conception of morality as solely concerned with sex.”
In comes Helmut Kentler. He approached the West Berlin Senate, their equivalent to the city government headed by the mayor, in 1969 and proposed that he be allowed to conduct a project that came to be known as the “Kentler experiment,” where homeless youth will be paired with pedophiles. His belief was that many of the children were so far beyond repair that nobody wants to look after them so the only workable solution is to place them in houses where the caretaker gets sexual favors in return.
He was soon made the head of the department of social education at a leading international think tank, the Pedagogical Center, and was given the resources, including regular payments to pedophile foster fathers, to carry out his project. According to Kentler, sexual liberation was the best way to “prevent another Auschwitz.”
It is not known how many children were involved but case files unearthed so far revealed that the Berlin authorities had setup these arrangement not just in the city but in different places of West Germany with single men who practiced pedophilia.
The RT documentary that interviewed Marco and Sven on camera with their faces blurred recorded Marco saying that he was told by investigators that a network of 50 individuals across educational institutions, Berlin’s child welfare office and politicians facilitated Kentler. One of them is currently on the board of the Social Democratic Party, one of the two major parties in Germany.
“The researchers found that several of the foster fathers were high-profile academics. They speak of a network that included high-ranking members of the Max Planck Institute, Berlin’s Free University, and the notorious Odenwald School in Hesse, West Germany, which was at the center of a major pedophilia scandal several years ago. It has since been closed down,” wrote Rina Goldenberg for Deutsche Welle.
One instance of this network was when caseworkers at social services were looking for a home for Sven. “Mr. Henkel seems to be ideally suited to this difficult task,” doctors from a clinic at the Free University of Berlin wrote.
In 1981, Kentler shared the details of his experiment with the German parliament saying that “we looked after and advised these relationships very intensively.” Later in the decade, Kenlter told Berlin’s senate that his experiment was a success. He reported that the foster boys are now able to support themselves and that they had retained their hetrosexual orientation.
Kentler had adopted foster boys himself and wrote in 1985, when he was 57, that he was aging happily because he and his son were “part of a very fulfilling love story.”
Kentler died in 2008 without ever atoning for his sins but he was forced to rethink his position in 1991 after one of his adopted son committed suicide. Reportedly, Kentler did not have sexual relations with him but the child suffered from depression because he was abused by his birth mother.
By late 1990s, Kentler had stopped seeing or getting involved with Henkel’s foster sons and in his last public statement on pedophilia, he referred to it as a “sexual disorder.”
Today, sexual violence agaisnt Children is punishable by upto 15 years in Germany but that is not stopping perpetrators. A few years ago, police discovered a large online network of pedophiles sharing child abuse content online that may include 30,000 suspects.
Going back to Marco, he left Henkel’s house soon after he turned 21 and the last time he saw Henkel was in 2015 on a hospital bed groaning with pain. Marco looked at him for five seconds and left. Henkel died the next day.
A few weeks later, Marco felt the sense of being free.
“It was like a hunger that grows stronger and stronger. I don’t know how to say it, but it was the first time that I figured out that I am living a life with a billion different possibilities. I could have been anything. My inner voice became stronger, my intuition that I don’t have to live my life the way he taught me, that I can keep going.”
He married his girlfriend this year. ( Sic.)
Five out of seven board members of the prestigious Odenwald private boarding school have resigned amid revelations that several of its teachers sexually abused pupils more than two decades ago.