The Villa Where a Doctor Experimented on Children

In The New Yorker, Margaret Talbot has this in-depth piece on a woman’s memories of being held in an abusive children’s psychiatric facility in Innsbruck, Austria, that was known as a “child-observation station” focused on correcting unwanted behaviors: . 

“One night in March, 2021, Evy Mages, a photojournalist in Washington, D.C., opened her laptop and, with trembling fingers, typed into Google the address of a villa in Innsbruck, Austria. For decades, Evy, who was fifty-five, had been haunted by memories of the house, where she had been confined for several months, starting when she was eight. She could still picture its pale-yellow exterior and the curved staircase and dark-wood panelling inside, but she’d kept what happened there a secret—even from a therapist whom she’d credited with saving her life. Evy’s memories of the place had become dreamlike, simultaneously vivid and vaporous.

She remembered being wrested from bed in the middle of the night at the home of her foster family, in the Alpine valley of Kleinwalsertal. She was hustled into a stranger’s car and driven through the mountains to Innsbruck. Nobody told her what kind of place the villa was, or how long she’d stay. Perhaps two dozen children were living there. Adults in white lab coats regularly administered shots and pills, and when it was time to eat the children were required to use weirdly abbreviated language: “bitte, Löffel” (“please, spoon”); “bitte, Gabel” (“please, fork”). In the morning, Evy attended school in the villa. At night, she had to sleep with a blanket pulled tight under her armpits, her arms ramrod straight by her sides, to insure that her hands couldn’t wander. She was terrified of wetting the bed, because whenever she did the white coats would awaken her, even from deep sleep, and march her to the bathroom for an ice-cold shower; she would then have to stand in a corner for the rest of the night. She’d be shivering and it would be dark, except for the murky green light from a fish tank, which she was forbidden to look at.”

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