Beth Alexander's estranged ex-husband insists: ‘It’s all lies!’

Dr Michael Schlesinger hits back at the mother in long-running custody case


The estranged ex-husband of Beth Alexander has broken his 13-year silence to hit back at the mother, who has been fronting a high-profile media campaign in her battle to see her twin sons.

It comes as a new film about how Ms Alexander, 37, became “a mother militant” in the custody dispute was pulled from the UK Jewish Film Festival, apparently due to production delays.

Speaking for the first time, Dr Michael Schlesinger, 42, who has had sole custody of the 13-year-old boys in Vienna since 2011, told the JC: “My ex-wife is obviously not concerned with the welfare of the children but solely with her publicity. All the accusations made by my ex-wife are fictitious.

“Unfortunately, journalists can still be found who believe these stories… in Austria I took legal action against all the media and was able to win the cases very quickly.”

The strictly-Orthodox father added: “Austria is a constitutional state and the entire legal case was approved by the first instance up to the Supreme Court. The sad thing is that the children are also aware of their mother’s campaign and understand that their mother has a greater interest in defaming their father.”

Court documents seen by the JC reveal that Ms Alexander’s film was one of the reasons why the District Court of Leopoldstadt denied her access, as it was believed to be harmful to the children. But Ms Alexander told the JC: “I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. It’s the only option left to me.”

She said: “My concern has only ever been for the children’s welfare. The father and his Vienna community have cut me out of my children’s lives and I am worried sick about what is going on behind closed doors… Vienna is a city of dark secrets and intrigue, and the Jewish community is even more insular.”

Ms Alexander accuses Dr Schlesinger — whom she met in Paris in 2007 — of domestic abuse in the unreleased film.

After a whirlwind romance and fairytale wedding, Dr Schlesinger became erratic and violent, she claims. “On our wedding night he seemed cold and he didn’t want to approach me,” she says.

“He started banging his head against the wall … he started screaming ‘I’m a bad person and
I need to be punished’. He said, ‘I’m a bad person for marrying you’.” Just 25 when her twins were born, she fled to a womens’ refuge a year later, in 2011. Thirteen years of acrimony and a protracted media campaign followed.

In January, the JC revealed that Chief Rabbi Mirvis had secretly visited Vienna to try to help resolve the dispute.
Court documents disclose that Ms Alexander’s press exposure was one of the reasons why the District Court of Leopoldstadt denied her custody.

Restricting her access, Judge Susanne Göttlicher ruled: “[This is because] the mother again took concrete steps to drag the children before the media. She initiated that a film documentary should be made about the case of the Schlesinger twins.”

The judge added: “There was a concrete danger that the private life of the children would again be disclosed to the media through the visits.”

A child welfare officer also testified that the twins, Benjamin and Samuel, now 13, did not want to spend more time with their mother, court documents show. “Independently from one another, both children are not very pleased about the children’s mother’s request for personal contact every two months and do not want this ‘under any circumstances’,” child welfare expert Stefan Pack said.

“The last meeting with the children’s mother, both children say independently from one another, was very ‘strange’, ‘exhausting’ and ‘disconcerting’.”

The court added: “They do not want to talk to their mother for longer than they feel is appropriate at the time.”

Commissioned by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, the film about Ms Alexander’s custody ordeal, Disgraced, was to premiere at the UK Jewish Film Festival (UKJFF) at JW3 next Tuesday, with a question-and-answer session with Ms Alexander and director Jane Mingay.

But on Monday, London-based Mosaic Films announced it had been withdrawn, leaving Ms Alexander “disappointed and devastated”.

Andy Glynne, the producer, said: “The film is not complete, that’s the issue. Audio dub, online, grade and a whole bunch of other things simply didn’t happen in time for a variety of reasons.” It may be released next year, he said.
UKJFF chief executive Michael Etherton added: “It’s a shame and a real blow for us.”

The JC has seen the most recent version of the film. Through archive footage, news clips and interviews with Cambridge-educated Ms Alexander’s family and others, Disgraced tells the story of how she became “a mother bereaved”.

“To my beautiful boys,” Ms Alexander opens the film by saying. “It’s been 11 years, two months, 23 days, and 17 hours since you were taken from me.

"They came at 6 o’clock on 25 July 2011 and carried you away. You both fought your captors, looking back at me, your deep brown eyes wild with fear.”

In October 2016, after years of legal struggle, Ms Alexander returned to Britain. But she never forgot the children, she told the court, and had never accepted contact being broken off, despite her limited options.

Describing the case as “among the most highly contentious proceedings” the court had faced, Judge Göttlicher has denied all of Ms Alexander’s requests.

Britta Schönhart-Loinig, an Austrian lawyer and expert on family law, told the JC: “In Austria, it’s frowned upon when parents use the media in order to present their side of a custody case. I would think that another media appearance on the part of the mother could definitely be used against her in the Austrian courts.”

Ms Alexander recently applied unsuccessfully to the High Court in London to have the case transferred to England under the Hague Convention, the JC understands.
She accepts that she now has no further legal avenues.

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