update January 8, 2013
Times of Israel Beth Schlesinger was at a Vienna play center with her 2-year-old twins, Samuel and Benjamin, when the phone rang. Her husband, Michael, had won custody of the children, social services said, and she needed to hand them over immediately.
Because her lawyer was away, Schlesinger phoned the only friendly face she could think of, a local rabbi, and headed home. The scene, she says 18 months later, was “barbaric.” Four policemen turned up with her husband as she fed her sons supper, and the children were taken without any of their belongings. She was crying, she says, and so was the rabbi.
Because she had not been awarded visitation rights, it was eight weeks until she saw the children again.
Since then, the couple — who had a Jewish divorce, but are still civilly married — have conducted a bitter custody battle that is beginning to draw media attention in Austria, and in the Jewish press in the UK, where Beth Schlesinger grew up. Her supporters, some of whom launched a public campaign on her behalf last month, claim that removing the children was highly irregular, and that they should be returned. [...]
Beth, 28, and her Austrian husband separated in February 2010, after three years of marriage. Schlesinger claims she fled to a women’s shelter, and that the marriage dissolved after the police were called to their apartment the following day. The custody dispute originates in Michael’s claims that his wife was mentally ill and suffered from post-partum depression. A court in Vienna commissioned an 80-page psychologist’s assessment, which concluded that Beth was indeed mentally unwell, delusional in her claims about how her husband treated her, and that she was not capable of raising children.
She now sees her sons every second Sunday and once during the week, with no overnight visits.
A gynecologist has told the court that there was no post-partum depression, and two privately commissioned psychological assessments have found that Schlesinger does not suffer from mental illness. A court-commissioned report, issued in mid-November, has said the same, with Dr. Werner Leixnering concluding that she had “neither at the time of examination nor at any time in the past, any form of mental illness.”