Two victims of a bizarre social experiment in which Berlin’s city hall deliberately placed troubled children in the care of paedophiles are on the brink of winning compensation.
From 1969 to 2003 the authorities put at least nine boys in the hands of convicted sex offenders on the advice of a disgraced social scientist.
The idea behind the Kentler experiment — named after Helmut Kentler, an academic who argued that paedophilia could have “positive consequences” — was that unruly and “feeble-minded” children would benefit from adult sexual attention.
In the late 1960s Kentler persuaded West Berlin’s ruling Senate that the homeless boys would jump at the opportunity to be fostered by paedophiles and would be “head over heels in love” with their new father figures.
One of the boys, referred to in legal proceedings as Marco, had been taken into care after suffering physical abuse at the hands of his father. In 1989, aged six, he was placed with a convicted child abuser. A year later this foster father, Fritz H, began going into Marco’s room for a “cuddle”.
Marco has claimed in an interview with Der Spiegel, a weekly news magazine, that for ten years he was repeatedly beaten and raped by Fritz H, until he reached the threshold of adulthood and fought back.
Another of Fritz H’s victims, given the cover name Sven, was abandoned by his parents at the age of seven and contracted hepatitis B on the streets of Berlin. In 1990 he was entrusted to the paedophile and suffered repeated sexual assaults.
Fritz H is alleged to have recorded the abuses on a video camera and kept the boys isolated from the outside world in his flat.
From 1974 Fritz H, who has since died, fostered four other boys. One of them, who is referred to as Sascha, lived in the flat at the same time as Sven and Marco. Sascha was allegedly neglected and denied medical care, leading to his death in 2003 from pneumonia.
It is not known how many children were subjected to the Kentler experiment. Four years ago the Berlin Senate commissioned an inquiry into the scandal from experts at Göttingen University. Their final report has yet to be published.
At the beginning of the experiment, Kentler, who died in 2008, was regarded as one of Germany’s foremost sexologists and often appeared as an expert witness in court cases. He boasted of having secured the acquittal of several alleged paedophiles.
In 1970 he urged the Bundestag to decriminalise sex between adults and children in West Germany, arguing that teenagers were “almost always more seriously damaged” by the prosecution of their abusers than by the abuse itself.
Nine years later he published a book in which it was claimed that numerous scientific studies had produced no evidence of paedophilia’s negative effects.
Marco and Sven were so badly scarred by their ordeal that they have been unable to work. In 2016 they brought a formal complaint to the city authorities.
The Senate has now agreed in principle to pay them compensation as part of an out-of-court settlement, according to Der Tagesspiegel, a daily newspaper, but there is a dispute over the extent of the damages.
One of the victims’ lawyers is said to have pressed for a lump sum of €100,000 and a monthly pension of €2,500, backdated to the end of the fostering arrangement in 2001.
The city of Berlin has said that it is working on a “solution that would satisfy the interests of those affected”.