Anja Röhl: "The Time is Right to Talk About Paedophilia"

What follows is a text by Anja Röhl, the stepdaughter of Ulrike Meinhof, in which she details a childhood of sexual abuse at the hands of her father Klaus Rainer Röhl, the founder of the important New Left magazine konkret.

The Time is Right to Talk About Paedophilia

by Anja Röhl, May 11, 2010

One of the most important men to openly defend paedophilia was a member of my family: his name was Klaus Rainer Röhl, and he was my father. He’s still alive, but the words “He is my father” will never cross my lips.

When I was still little, long before I reached puberty, he was always telling me what sensuous and erotic skin children have, “completely different from women who are older than thirteen.” He only found children younger than thirteen attractive, in any case. He laughed about this and tried to have his fun with me. He “slapped” me on my cheeks. He even seemingly accidentally “slapped” (that’s what he called these blows) my thighs – both of them, usually until I could no longer bear the pain – until I specifically told him, “Stop, daddy, that hurts.” His answer to this was that I shouldn’t make such a fuss: “a German girl” doesn’t cry.

He told me early on that he had found me erotic on the diaper changing table, and frequently discussed with me his theory that it is better for young girls to be deflowered by older, experienced men, as younger men were, for the most part, too inexperienced. The idea of concepts such as erotic, deflowering, sensuous, etc. being discussed openly and in detail with children may seem peculiar, but that is really part of the game through which we children were ensnared, so that we didn’t see what was happening as being at all out of the ordinary.

After I turned eleven, he often showed me large numbers of erotic photos, some of which he would select for the magazine konkret,[1] explaining to me that the most important thing was that the girls look innocent and coy. That’s what the readers liked best.

From my earliest childhood, he would often bring me alone with him on his short holidays in Sylt. On the beach, he would take me by the hand and we would go “check out women.” Even then, the most important criteria for him was youthfulness. I got to have “my say” about which of them was the “most sensuous,” although it goes without saying that none of them could ever compete with girls younger than thirteen, who simply had the most sensuous skin, who had not yet been kissed, had not yet experienced arousal, which gave them the greatest allure – something they were of course fully aware of.

When I was fourteen years old, he openly began a relationship with a sixteen-year-old in my presence, although at the time he had a steady girlfriend in Cologne and two other casual relationships in Hamburg.
My father often spoke of women as “sluts” or “whores.” Those were his favourite words, especially when talking about former, discarded girlfriends, or in reference to a current girlfriend if she irritated him in even the slightest way. In arguments, he always used these words. I heard these words, along with the word bitch, directed at my mother during arguments as far back as I can recall. Ulrike [2] was the only woman against whom he seldom dared use this word as a weapon.

Both of my aunts witnessed such scenes as far back as the 50s, and as young girls were subjected to my father’s sexual innuendos.

The sexual innuendos were passed off as jokes when other people were around. What defined them was a combination of admiring, lyrical phrases, on the one hand, and derogatory and humiliating phrases, on the other. I myself have heard nothing but derogatory statements come out of my father’s mouth about discarded girlfriends, as well as about my aunts long after they were adults. These put-downs were always sexist, nasty and hurtful.

Later, it was similar for my siblings and I. While he was extremely flattering to me as a child, when my siblings were “older than fourteen,” he treated me, even in front of other people, in an extremely disparaging way. This, above all, took a sexist form – focussing on outward appearance, in any case: I had greasy hair, legs that were too fat, lips that were too thin, even unattractive.

My aunts also witnessed him having loud and abusive arguments with my mother, during which he raged, sobbed and screamed – he would overturn my crib, and then calm me by smothering me with kisses, claiming that this baby was the only person who understood him.

When I was five, I went with my father on a fourteen-day winter vacation in Rottach-Egern. During the holiday, we shared a double bed in a hotel room. Following pancakes and the ensuing stomach-ache, which triggered an intense fight in the room, I burst into tears. He hugged me, began to cry, referred to himself as an arsehole and vehemently begged my forgiveness. Later on, during such “forgiveness scenes,” he would call me “his only woman” and “his beloved and the only one he had left,” eliciting feelings of intense pity on my part. Under the pretext of taking an afternoon nap, he asked me to get into our large bed. When I was almost asleep, he pushed against me from behind and I felt something hard, while he embraced me and moaned … when I was older, I realized that he had masturbated on my body, while desperately trying to hide this fact by crying.

My father, as he frequently stated in front of witnesses, acted on the assumption that girls wanted to seduce their fathers and were perfectly aware of the desires they were provoking. He called girls between the ages of five and twelve “little Lolitas” and described them as “coquettes” and “coy.” I heard him say that sort of thing about a twelve-year-old, and he would often call my half-sister Bettina the “most sensuous baby that he had ever known.”

My father was capable of wild silliness and could quickly charm children with games, rapidly gaining their trust, their love and their affection in the process. Once he had them, however, it didn’t take long before he found them annoying and would provoke conflicts with them, just as he did with adults, which would always be followed by the same pathetic forgiveness ritual. This was his constant routine in the children’s rooms when saying goodnight, if there were no other adults around to witness it. During these forgiveness rituals he would place the child on his lap, double himself over, cry, sob and imperceptibly squeeze the child against his genitals.

I can’t count the number of times from my earliest childhood until I was fourteen (once I was fourteen, his attitude towards me changed, and he left me in peace) that after such conflicts he would talk about what an arsehole he was and how abysmally bad he was, never without hugging me tightly, progressing from sobbing to embracing, to caressing, and then to saying that I was “the only woman (!) he could love.”

When I was twelve years old, he was sitting in his living room with a “discarded sweetheart” (so he had told me): love songs on the turntable, candlelight. Soon he wanted her to move closer on the couch, and soon I saw his hands on her breast. Out of fear of being in the way, I bumped into a lamp and got an electric shock. My subsequent screams drove him into a rage, during which he was very loud and abusive. Crying, I ran upstairs to the attic where I sometimes slept, and not long thereafter, he came up after me.

I was gripped by fear as soon as I heard his steps on the stairs. He came in and said that H. had sent him, and that he had behaved badly and should be more patient with me. Now he wanted to do that. With those words, he moved closer in the dark room, sat down on the edge of my bed and began to babble about being sorry. It was obvious that he became immediately sexually aroused whenever he apologized for something, which caused him to become even more insistent, more vehement and more into it, and soon he was talking about being an arsehole, asking me to forgive him, to please, please forgive him! The intensity of it seemed to make him restless and he fidgeted with his hands and didn’t seem to know what to do with them. The entire time, I was dying of fear and laid there frozen. Suddenly, his hands were under the blankets and he was taking possession of my still childlike body. At this point, without speaking – he was very quiet about it – he began to caress my barely developed breasts. He caressed my belly, my hips…

This quieted him down. I lay there as if I was dead. He spoke some more about his monstrousness and about wanting me to forgive him, and he acted like nothing unusual had happened. It took a long time for him to finally leave me. Why had he behaved that way? What had he done? Why had he touched me in the most intimate of places? What was he trying to achieve? The whole time I was in the grip of the most immense fear and was unable to move. Weighed down with shame at the time, I felt like I was experiencing something no one should ever have to go through. In my mind, I repeated over and over again, “This shouldn’t happen to anyone.” What he did didn’t hurt, but I didn’t want it to happen. Yet, he acted as if I had clearly consented. He acted as if he were doing it for my sake. The entire time, he reasoned with me, spoke pleasantly about forgiveness and patience, played the loving father, while under the covers he was groping my body as if it belonged to him.

For hours after he finally got up and left my room, I was terrified he would return. Something bizarre had happened to me: my body had become alien to me. It was not that anything hurt: it was that he had made me his property. My body hadn’t belonged to me: it had belonged to him. I hadn’t wanted it, but my body had remained motionless. Why had it not been possible for me to say “NO!”?

For the rest of the night, I lay awake haunted by thoughts of how I would face him the next morning over breakfast. I would have liked to sink into the mattress forever.

Later, I told Ulrike about this experience, very carefully, in a coded way. I trusted her a good deal and had been very close to her from the age of five. I wrote to her about it in a letter from college about a year later, in 1969. I did so to explain why I could never move in with my father, in response to an invitation from her to live with them in Berlin if I wanted to. Attorney Heinrich Hannover [3] returned this letter to me decades later. He told me that she had wanted to use it to prove that it would be dangerous for her children to be turned over to their father and that he had paedophile tendencies. Often when he grabbed our thighs under our dresses as if by accident, as he constantly did, I would hear her tell him that he shouldn’t “eroticize” us that way.

Under the pretext of showing me what it was like to be kissed on the mouth, he approached me for the last time on a moonlit night on a pier when I was fourteen years old. He explained to me that to make it more exciting it was very important to begin by gradually opening your mouth. As he demonstrated, gently pushing his tongue into my mouth, I felt like a cold piece of iron was being screwed into my mouth and shuddered with revulsion and shame.

Later on, if I saw my father casually sitting with a small child on his lap – he often sat his girlfriends’ children on his lap and played horsey with them – I would gag.

One could describe all of this as “mild abuse.” I will gladly leave it to others to come up with the appropriate term. A well-known book about abuse documents the case of an adult woman whose father was a very likeable fellow who was widely considered to be completely trustworthy. She was clearly his favourite child, and she felt that he loved her like no one else in the world. When he deflowered her at the age of twelve, it was a tender experience for both of them. It is true that her father was jealous when she had her first boyfriend at the age of seventeen, but eventually he integrated him into family life as her husband, demanding only regular visits and devotion. When, as a result of subconscious traces of the experience in his wife’s dreams, her husband figured everything out and threatened to expose her father, the dutiful daughter went into the basement, got an axe and killed, not her father, but her husband. It was only ten years later, during so-called ongoing therapy, that everything came out, with the daughter arriving at the horrifying realization and confronting her father about it during a visit. A trembling old man stood before her, offering not a word of apology, but fearfully begging her not to tell “her mother” about those “things,” no matter what.

When we think about abuse, we mostly think of threats, punishments and violence. In real life it’s more complicated than that. The victim is often rendered dependent and docile with tenderness and love. The more gently it’s carried out and the greater the degree of seeming consent on the part of the victim, the stronger the victim’s tendency to succumb to maintaining lifelong silence and denial and to identifying with, if not idealizing, the offender as the model for the constantly sought after beloved.

Recently, there has been a discussion about the “Left-Wing Paedophiles” (taz, April 22, 2010). Given the Odenwaldschule [4] and the Indianerkommunen [5], it is important that these themes be addressed. In these places, paedophilia and the idea of “sexual liberation” were dealt with as if they were necessarily connected. I believe that these ideas were beside the point and that other factors have played and continue to play a significantly larger role.

My father was forced into the war at fourteen years of age. As a child, he developed a steely resolve as a result of constant humiliation and beatings. Could these things have anything to do with how he sees women, with his constant use of his favourite insult “slut” for women and girls, with his habit of involving helpless and defenceless children in masochistic forgiveness rituals following fits of rage and violence, accompanied by sexual arousal? I don’t want to forgive it. I broke with my father a long time ago. I don’t forgive him, but it is imperative that we understand the phenomenon. We must learn from it.

Even in the days of an ostensible tolerance of paedophilia as a “gentle,” tender form of abuse based on the child’s “consent” to sexual activity with adults and carried out with protestations of love, there existed, as taz reported, women’s groups that violently protested this, finding it extremely dangerous. Were they in some way prudes or opponents of sexual liberation? No, they weren’t, but they knew from their own painful experiences that this had nothing to do with liberation. To have an agreement with the offender – whether openly, as in the case of the “Indianerkommune,” or secretly, as in the case of the aforementioned family – can seriously damage a child’s inner self. They must not only defend, cover up and excuse the offender’s abnormal desires, but unconsciously, as outlined above, they either deflect, redirect or transfer all their fear and any anger they feel onto others, or else have it rebound back upon themselves.

My alleged consent with my father, my alleged willingness, was the result of an unidentifiable fear. During all of these incidents, I was seized by an enormous fear. It left me frozen, shut my brain down and made time stand still. This fear wasn’t the fear of pain or violence. This fear came from the sexualisation of tenderness – the tenderness that I experienced from my father, as part of a forbidden love. I was still a child, neither coquettish nor coy, neither seductive nor slutty, neither sensuous nor erotic. What my father believed I was, what he ascribed to me based on his sickness – for which he required treatment – makes up the core of my fear. There was an accusation behind it, an accusation that, in the midst of an apparently gentle act, I was unable to escape. My father surrounded me with this fear, and it will be with me until the end of my days.

German original:

N.B. All footnotes in this document were added by the translators. None are originally from the document itself.
[1] konkret was an important magazine for the West German New Left, founded by Klaus Rainer Röhl in 1957. The magazine initially received secret funding from the illegal Communist Party, but this was cut off in 1964 due to political disagreements with Röhl and Ulrike Meinhof, the magazine’s editor-in-chief. At that point, in order to make up the shortfall, Röhl arranged for the magazine to begin featuring photos of scantily clad women – its circulation almost tripled.  [return to text][2] A reference to Ulrike Meinhof, Klaus Rainer Röhl’s wife from 1961 until 1968 and a founding member of the Red Army Faction.  [return to text][3] Heinrich Hannover represented Ulrike Meinhof in her efforts to overturn the conditions of intense isolation she was held in after her 1972 arrest.  He also acted on her behalf in her efforts to prevent Klaus Röhl from gaining custody of their twin daughters Bettina and Regine after she went underground.  [return to text][4] Odenwaldschule is an anti-authoritarian boarding school, founded in 1910.  In the 1990s, former students accused the Director Gerold Becker of systematic sexual abuse throughout the 70s and 80s.  [return to text][5] The Indianerkommune (Indian Commune) was a paedophile adult and youth housing collective, initially located in Heidelberg and later in Nuremberg.  It contextualized itself as a “sexual liberation” organization and was the source of much debate and conflict on the German left in the 80s.  [return to text]


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