Friedrich Griess was 13 at the end of WWII. As a young Austrian, he had been forced to attend youth meetings celebrating Hitler and Nazism. His experiences left him with an abiding love of freedom, democracy, and human rights. All his life he has been an avid reader, a lover of education, curious, open-minded, and appreciative of cultures other than his own.
And so it came as a terrible irony when, in 1983, Griess and his wife were forced to the heartrending conclusion that their only daughter, Wiltrud, 20 years old, had joined a cult. There followed the agony of witnessing their previously happy daughter’s behavior turn violent, and at times suicidal. Through it all, Mr. Griess tried to maintain contact with her, enduring accusations and condemnations, attempting to navigate the extremely stormy waters of a relationship damaged by parental alienation, a speciality of cults.
When the catastrophe first befell the family, there was little information. Mr. Griess and his wife joined a group for support called “Society Against the Dangers of Sects and Cults.” They hoped also to be able to help other people who were dealing with the same issues. Since that time, he has worked tirelessly to educate the public about the dangerous psychological mechanisms employed by cults.
Mr. Griess was educated as an electrical engineer. From 2002 until 2005 he was vice president of FECRIS, the European umbrella organization for groups working to give support and spread information about this subject. From 2005 until 2009 he was president of FECRIS. He has been married to his wife, Poldi, a high-school math and physics teacher, since 1959 and has four children: Wiltrud, Bernard, Gernot, and Helge. Now 78 years old, Friedrich Griess is news correspondent for ICSA, covering Austria.
Mr. Griess’s advice to those trying to help cultists is, “Be aware that the usual education in theology, psychology, psychiatry, sociology, or law is not sufficient to understand cults.” He is very troubled that the U.S. State Department pressures other countries to “not discriminate against minority ‘religions,’” no matter how much harm these ‘religions’ do to their members and society in general. While deeply committed to religious freedom, he believes that the problem is complex, and that, while individuals have the right to choose their religious expression, cults do not have the right to cause harm or behave in a socially irresponsible way.
Mr. Griess is continually motivated by the necessity to spread knowledge about destructive groups and is inspired by a feeling of responsibility: “Our most important weapon is information.”
During his tenure as president of FECRIS, the Parliamentarian Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted Recommendation 1804, which states, in part: “Such freedom is not unlimited, however: A religion whose doctrine or practice ran counter to other fundamental rights would be unacceptable…”
Clearly, it can be said, without any exaggeration, that through his diligent effort, Friedrich Griess has turned personal suffering into public good, and in the process, transformed lead into gold.