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Category: Non-fiction

Michael Hagner

Der Hauslehrer - Die Geschichte eines Kriminalfalls
[The private tutor - The story of a criminal case]


In his Psychopathia Sexualis of 1886, Richard von Krafft-Ebbing, a Viennese doctor, was one of the first people to describe the phenomenon of the ‘child-beater’. When the sadistically inclined man is deprived of the true object of his desire, namely a woman, he attempts to gratify his drives by beating ‘arbitrarily chosen, living, feeling objects, children and animals’. It cannot be said that this definition of the ‘child beater’ greatly clarifies matters. And even when discussing teachers who abuse their position vis-à-vis male youths and children, the vagueness of the commentaries persisted. For example, in the account given of such a case by Albert Moll, the celebrated forensic doctor, the idea that a teacher’s violence might be sexually motivated is treated as secondary. Pride of place is given to the supposed masochism of the victimized pupil.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the connection between sadism and education was frequently touched on but never made fully explicit. The pioneers of sexology possessed neither an authoritative terminology nor a case that might be thought of as canonical. Shortly after the turn of the century a law student by the name of Andreas Dippold provided them with both. In October 1903 the twenty-four-year-old Dippold was put on trial in Bayreuth. He was accused of having beaten to death Heinz Koch, a banker’s son with whose education he had been entrusted. He was sentenced to eight years in prison with the loss of his civic rights for ten years. The public was outraged that this ‘beast’ had been let off so lightly; the newspapers were full of the case for months and gradually the term ‘Dippoldism’ made its entrance into the scientific textbooks as a synonym for teacher sadism.

In his historical study ‘The Private Tutor’, Michael Hagner devotes himself to answering the question why this case above all others made such waves throughout all classes in the German Empire at the turn of the century. Hagner is a historian of science in Zurich and he explores the origins of this scandal with a successful combination of meticulous documentary detail and narrative drama. His analysis shows how the various academic disciplines latched onto the media sensationalism with the result that ‘Dippoldism’ ended up as the paradigmatic example of a hitherto unknown species of sexual perversion.

Unlike all the journalists, medical experts, lawyers, psychologists and educationalists who sought at the time to exploit Heinz Koch’s death for their own pet theories, Hagner’s reconstruction of the events sticks to the facts as they have been handed down. The victim’s father, Rudolf Koch, was fully absorbed in his work as chairman of the Deutsche Bank and he delegated all questions of education to his wife Rosalie. As was customary in their circles the parents had high expectations of their eight children. Above all, the thirteen-year-old Heinz and Joachim, his younger brother by two years, were the babies of the family and their poor scholastic achievements and lack of discipline came as a disappointment to their parents. Even prestigious boarding schools failed to bring about improvements and so in 1902 the banker’s wife decided to employ Dippold to take charge of the upbringing of her two problem children. On the family estate in the Harz Mountains, far from their home in Berlin, the tutor was mandated to turn her sons into ‘decent people’. Dippold had informed her by letter of his preferred methods of education: a fat-free diet and rigorous physical training in the open air. Corporal punishment was inevitable in order to cure the boys of their chief vice: masturbation. His mother raised no objection.

Prior to the Dippold case, if any assertion about education could be said to have enjoyed universal acceptance in the German Empire it was the firm belief in the immorality of childhood masturbation. Even when the parents learned from third parties that the boys were covered in weals and bruises, they failed to intervene. Dippold went to ludicrous lengths to break his young wards of their habit of self-abuse. He forced them to make written confessions of their guilt; at night he tied down their hands and legs; often, he even slept between them. And of course, he continued to administer thrashings. The situation escalated when Dippold was given permission to take them back with him to his home in a village in Franconia. There he could pursue his educational regimen without the need to fear interference from members of the Koch household. On the morning of 8 March 1903, Heinz asked to be allowed to stay in bed. When a doctor was called that afternoon, there was nothing he could do beyond establishing that the boy was dead.

The post mortem found that in addition to the injuries inflicted by Dippold, Heinz had had a skull deformity from birth and also a renal weakness. The coroner failed to clarify whether these organic defects had been a factor exacerbating Dippold’s maltreatment and so leading to Heinz’s death. Nevertheless, the book is right to have as its subtitle ‘The Story of a Criminal Case’. Hagner does not indulge in speculations about the exact causes of death. His detective work is concentrated on uncovering the internal contradictions and the arbitrary nature of the many debates that raged at the time as public opinion struggled to achieve a dominant consensus. During the trial itself, Dippold had made no bones about his use of corporal punishment. He was convinced that his actions were in conformity with the pedagogical spirit of the age. He only became a sexual monster in the eyes of the public when for some reason the masturbatory practices of the Koch children were suddenly discounted. It was inconceivable, people argued, that such chubby, rosy-cheeked boys could ever have succumbed to this debilitating vice. While some journalists followed the example of the influential father in defending the sexual purity of his family, others condemned the parents as typical representatives of the irresponsible and decadent upper classes and pigeon-holed the crime as a symptom of general social degeneration. The trial became a peg on which to hang a wide variety of polemics that were connected in their turn to current debates in the legal and human sciences. The case arrived conveniently for the lawyers, who were heavily engaged at the time in the vigorous debates surrounding a reform of the penal code. Educationalists, psychiatrists and doctors had only recently discovered sadism as a psychopathology and were delighted to be able to canonize the Kochs’ private tutor as an empirical alternative to the examples of dubious scientific merit to be found in the writings of the Marquis de Sade.

Dippold himself soon found himself completely forgotten in this storm of indignation and debate. Hagner, however, is at pains not to exculpate him. Admittedly, he is not concerned with moral issues, nor does he succumb to the temptation to link the case with debates about child abuse in our own time arising from the events in the Odenwaldschule and a variety of Catholic schools. Hagner’s cool, many-layered analysis confines itself to a dissection of the discursive moment at the beginning of the last century. He provides an account of the social and cultural dynamic that transformed the tutor’s crime from a specific event into a paradigmatic case and he locates it in its historical context. Anyone who looks up ‘Dippoldism’ in a medical dictionary today will find it referred to as of only historical interest. As a diagnostic concept, it has vanished from the current vocabulary of psychopathology. Dippold himself served out his sentence and then tried to start a new life as a lawyer in Latin America, but at this point he disappeared from view.

Translated by Rodney Livingstone

Book cover The private tutor - The story of a criminal case

By Marianna Lieder

​Marianna Lieder works as a freelance journalist and literary critic for publications including the Tagesspiegel, the Stuttgarter Zeitung and Literaturen. She has been an editor at Philosophie Magazin since 2011.