I spoke with Natascha Kampusch, Austrian girl who was kidnapped at the age of 10 and held captive in a cellar for eight and a half years. She escaped her captor in 2006. Her new book “10 Years Of Freedom” will be published in England in April this year.
Peter Balkus: It’s been 10 years now since you re-gained your freedom after being kidnapped and held in the captivity for 8 and a half years. Is a passing time your enemy or a friend? Does time make your memories less painful and your life a bit easier, or not really?
Natascha Kampusch: It is true that time heals all wounds one has suffered in life. But it is also true that the eight and a half years I have lost will never come back again in any way. What gives me strength though is the fact that I am now in control of my own life again and that my future depends primarily on me.
PB: You seem to be a person with very strong personality. You said in the “3096 Days In Captivity” documentary that you didn’t do many things he asked you to, “because I won’t be forced to do anything I don’t want to”. Also you call your bravery to say no to certain things a “fighting spirit” in you. Where did this “fighting spirit” in you come from?
NK: This is not easy for me the explain, to be honest. I always had and I always will have my own will, no matter what the circumstances are. Maybe that way of thinking derives from my childhood when I had seen so many people struggling for what that they really wanted in life so badly. But maybe it is just a kind of personal sense of justice if you like.
PB: Do you think he ever regretted what he’s done and wanted to turn back the hands of time, but at the same time was too scared, too coward to do it?
NK: I am pretty sure that there was some abstract voice that told him he was doing me wrong. But like you said, it was far too late for him to turn back, he simply exceeded some certain kind of threshold in this respect.
PB: Does talking to other people about your dreadful past help you could be a therapy, or rather make you fall back into depression?
NK: I have to admit that sometimes these kind of questions are a little too much for me, especially when they are formulated below the belt, so to speak. But still it is very important to tell the world what happened to me during and after that period of captivity.
PB: I’ve watched the documentary “3096 Days In Captivity”, when you explain your case from psychological point of view. You said: “The crime he committed usually stems from some kind of illness or from some form of abuse and a person can’t be blamed for being ill or for being set on the wrong path. But my perpetrator did have a conscience and he was aware of what he was doing. You could see where the weakness lay that it was illness or emotional abuse that made him so mentally unstable, that he saw kidnapping as a solution to his problems… That actually made me feel pity and compassion for him because a lot of people are looking for meaning in their lives and a lot fail. Some commit suicide, other choose the wrong path. He thought that if life couldn’t give him what he wanted, he must take it by force and become like everything that had hurt him and abused him and made him ill.” Do you still today feel compassion for him and people like him living in the world?
NK: Yes, this is still the way I am thinking about him. I also believe that there are a whole lot of other people in the world who are just like him, more that you might think of. I really feel sorry for them but even more for the people that surround them, their victims.
PB: Let me quote you one more time, as you’ve also said something which sounds very universal. You said: “You are locked up there in the dark, there’s no electricity and you are hungry, and you think “What’s the point? Why not put an end to this misery? But then you decide that you mustn’t give up, because the whole thing is a monstrous injustice, and you mustn’t let it get you down, because that would be an admission of defeat”. There are many people, children, men and women kidnapped, enslaved in the world. Do you think your story and your firm No to the defeat can help other to survive, break free?
NK: I hope it does, really. Saying No to defeat is the only way to survive, but not every situation allows you such a way of thinking, I guess. Of course it makes me happy if someone gets the opportunity to read my books and interviews who has suffered some similar experience. But at the same time I also think that every case of slavery or kidnapping is quite unique and that each survivor must find his/her own ways and strategies to overcome their experiences of abuse.
PB: Do you believe “fighting spirit” is in everyone, or only in some of us?
NK: I personally believe that everybody holds certain strengths in oneself. It is a challenge though to explore those strengths in order to use them properly. Not everyone is ready to trust ones own instincts, which is a pity.
PB: Have you ever thought about how to make the world a better place? How your ideal world would look like?
NK: Well, it should be just like in John Lennon’s song “Imagine” but with a little more rules. Our society has to get in perfect harmony with the nature, with deep respect for all creatures in the world – that is what I hope for.
PB: Please tell us 3 best things about Vienna in your opinion, and 1 best thing about Austria.
NK: Vienna is one of the world’s top cities for quality of life, which is a fact for years. We also have a very good sense of humour over here. And I love our water, which you can drink directly from the water tap if you like. About Austria? I like its nature, especially our big mountains and vast forests.
PB: Do you still want to meet The Queen of England? If so, what would you tell Her?
NK: Yes, that would be great. I would tell Her that I admire Her personality for so many things, for the strength and the constancy to be the Queen to Her people over so many years. I would simply ask Her about Her whole life!
More info on her Website