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Home > Countries > Chile > Rise and fall of Colonia Dignidad

Rise and fall of Colonia Dignidad (March 23, 2005)
To detention of Paul Schaefer

Nil Nikandrov

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In the 60 – 70 the soviet press wrote a lot about German Colonia Dignidad that found its refuge in Chilean foothills. Its notorious fame was linked, first of all, with Nazis, allegedly hiding themselves there after the second world war. By the efforts of journalists and authors of the literary best-sellers the colony was tightly “inhabited” by Hitler party bonzes, sombre agents of gestapo, smart doctors-sadists and invincible aces of “Luftwaffe”.

Nameboard at the entrance to “Family club”
Nameboard at the entrance to “Family club”

The colony authorities have never cared for denial of these legends. They thought that the ominous aureole, which had appeared around “the German enclave” on the Chilean territory is even useful: there would be fewer enthusiasts to get into its mysteries. The Colonia Dignidad was sometimes called a state within the state: dozens of thousands of square kilometers of Chilean land are fenced by a double row of barbed wire – it was impossible to penetrate inside without permission of German owners.

Little restaurant “Family club” was created not only for commercial purposes, but for propaganda purposes as well (picture shows the first page of the restaurant advertising booklet)
... During my trip to the south of Chile I happened to visit a roadside restaurant with a cozy name “Family club”. The advertising plywood cook in a white cap promised a “typical German cuisine, fast service and comfort”. There were many clients in the “Club”, and waiters, in white jackets with names - “Hans”, “Thomas”, “Fritz” embroidered above the pockets - were not idle, the orders were pouring from all directions. The sentimental hand-made landscape: lake with swans, open-air cage for tropical birds, pergola of roses was seen through the wide windows. In other words – paradise on the Earth. At parting, they gave me advertising cards and bulletin “Ambassador of honor”, in between the lines of which one could read: we were not doing anything bad, our goals were clear and comprehensible, and accusations addressed to us, were inspired by communist elements. Isn't it a bad idea – to use the restaurant for propaganda purposes! Scandals around the Colonia Dignidad used to appear very frequently ...

“Charitable and educational society “Dignidad” - has been the complete official name of the colony since its foundation in 1961.

For thirty years the colony enjoyed the exclusive rights. In its chartered documents it declared that it would take care of children-orphans, their education and preparation to future professional activity. And also it was promised to provide free medical services to the neighboring with the colony region, to build schools, to teach local peasants the “art of cultural management”.

In 1991 by the decree of the President of Chile Patricio Aylwin the colony was practically dismissed on the plea of flagrant violation of the declared during establishing goals, numerous violations of national legislation. “Children charity” was used by the colony to conceal its illegal commercial activity and licentious paedophilia. However, the ex-Colonia Dignidad or Villa Bavaria, as it was called later, managed to survive. The colony authorities have been warned about the presidential decree in advance and transferred all property into monetary funds to the dummy names. Court officers did not get anything... but arrogant mockery over the Chilean authorities, whose attempt to ruin a state within the state faced “persistent defense” of the leader of the colony and his mates. They defended their benefits and multi-million fortune, profitable real estate, flourishing enterprises.

Paul Schaefer – ominous leader of the Colonia Dignidad
Paul Schaefer – ominous leader of the Colonia Dignidad
Paul Schaefer, native of Germany, guided by the inner totalitarian doctrines of his own “authorship”, had absolute rule in this “mini-state” for a long time. His “subjects” - totally 300 persons, mostly the Germans – worshiped his “Fuhrer” as a God. From morning till evening they toiled on the fields and enterprises of highly profitable “Dignidad Company” processing the agricultural products.

Little is known about the real facts of Schaefer's biography. He was born in 1921 in the town of Siegburg near Bonn. He started to work in his teens assisting the circus vagrant actor. Later he served in the German medical battalion at the East front, where he was wounded and lost his left eye. That was his “specific feature”.

In the post war Germany Schaefer used to work as a teacher in the kindergarten attached to an evangelic cathedral. Lecherous activities towards children were the reasons for his disgraceful expulsion and later he was excommunicated. Schaefer decided to change his “behavior” and took a great interest in preaching. His religious radicalism attracted first adherents to him. Religious community, that was named "Private Social Mission", was established by joint efforts. It admitted miserable, injured by horrors of war people. However the name of Schaefer once again became in the center of a scandal, dealing with sexual abuse of minors. Paedophile charges threatened him with many years of imprisonment.


Miles of barbed wire around the Colonia Dignidad cause certain associations

In 1961 the sect moved to Latin America, Chile. By fraud they managed to take out the children, voluntarily given to the “mission” for education by their parents. The works on construction of buildings in the Colonia Dignidad commenced without any delay. Its boundaries were protected as thoroughly as any other strategic military bases: barbed wire, electronic observation hi-tech gadgets, radars that control air space above the colony! Security services acted resolutely and cruelly. To penetrate inside as well escape from the colony was next to impossible.

Schaefer & Co scrutinized in detail everything that was going on behind the barbed wire because their security depended on it. Information network in the colony was very efficient, as it possessed reliable sources in political, law-enforcement and military circles.

Martin Borman
Numerous rumours and assumptions, that Martin Borman has been hiding in the Colonia Dignidad for a long time, have not been confirmed.
In publications about the Colonia Dignidad they often use the documentary films from the history of the Third Reich as proof of its Nazi origin, basis of fascist ideology. Definitely, the inner structure of the colony, cruelty of established orders, brushed up system of converting people into dumb and obedient robots – are the integral features of the totalitarian sect. Nevertheless, one should weightily treat those publications about the Colonia Dignidad, in which it is called the “hide-out” of Nazi criminals, who managed to get to Latin America through illegal channels of ODESSA organization, established by Himler security services prior to defeat of Hitler Germany. If we believe such articles, it appears that such “cursed personalities” like Walter Rauf – inventor of gas chamber, SS doctor-experimenter Josef Mengele and chief of fuhrer reichschancellor office Martin Borman had lived in the colony for many years. Ladislao Farago, famous investigator of the Nazi underground mysteries in Latin America even ranked the Colonia Dignidad among one of secret centers of the “Fourth Reich” in Latin America.

Another thing – cooperation of the colony with DINA (political guard of the Pinochet regime). In this case there were much more evidences, although they were actively destroyed by the “interested parties”. After the military coup on September 11, 1973, the colony provided its territory and buildings for the needs of DINA, i.e. for extension of underground center of tortures, in which the German colonists took part. Traces of many arrested activists and supporters of National Unity disappear in the colony, although the “Rettig committee report” mentions only one of them - Alvaro Vallejos Villagran – as a victim. Terrible discoveries are yet to come: exhumation of the bodies at the Dignidad cemetery was not yet done, the foothills nearby the colony were not yet investigated.

The boys taken for “education” to the colony called Schaefer “Omnipresent uncle”. He was always at hand. There was no escaping from him. He knew everything. The children from poor and incomplete families were selected to the colony. After signing the necessary papers the children used to disappear behind the unassailable fence, and mothers, sometimes for months or for years, had no access to them. Their attempts to return them ended in failure. Local authorities did not dare to come up against the colony.

Schaefer paced in the colony in the company of minors - errand boys, whom, as stated by the fugitives from Dignidad, he used for his sexual pleasures. Shrilling sound of his silver whistle made all the colony inhabitants tremble. Those, who disobeyed the “behavior code” of the colony, were broken by hunger, beating and electric shock.

In his individual paradise Schaefer lived in complete security for a long time. The most amazing thing is that even after the restoration of democracy in Chile, the colony successfully repelled all the attempts to dismiss it. At the parliamentary hearings about the Colonia Dignidad right opposition deputies with righteous anger rebuffed the incriminated to Schaefer crimes, although at least a dozen of fugitives used to tell horrible stories about unbearable labor conditions, beatings, humiliation of human dignity. After scandalous exposures, made by Chilean press and decisive actions of the police, Paul Schaefer disappeared without leaving a trace. Once, in a critical situation, he already simulated suicide and disappeared for a couple of years. Then he appeared again – safe and sound.

Completion of the Colonia Dignidad affair, most likely, will be lengthy process. Investigation is carried out only in the most evident facts of crimes: sexual abuse of minors and tax evasion. The evidences are being collected, witnesses are questioned, confrontations are conducted, the scenes of accidents are examined. Villa Bavaria is resisting with fanatical obstinacy. Hatred squall falls on the single mothers, who dared to bring any legal actions against Schaefer. The “friends of the Colonia” literally terrorize them: pelt them with stones, cover the doors of shabby dwellings with leaflets full of threats, spread detractive rumors and threaten to punish both them and their children.

Those traces of crimes which can be destroyed are destroyed. The interior and finishing of the rooms where old man Schaefer used to “sin” is altered with special diligence. This is being done by the colony teams of civil works. It was that tactics used in the past, when the members of human rights Rettig committee tried to locate torture chambers on the territory of Dignidad. Everything was subjected to fast and thorough rebuilding.

Carabiniers and criminal police agents made dozens of searches and “excavations” on the territory of the colony. Hundreds of agents participated in such large scale operations that lasted for 20 to 30 days. During one of such operations they managed to find the center, from where the video and audio control over the life of colonists was carried out. However, despite all the efforts, the entrance to the bunker of Schaefer was never found. In order to protect their “fuhrer” from justice, the colonists altered the interior and landscape inside the colony. For this purpose they leveled some hills to the ground and raised others, changed the creek beds, replanted trees, and so forth.

Failures of the police operations clearly demonstrated: the colony possesses influential “early warning” personnel in the ruling and law-enforcement circles. It was not in vane that the bosses of the colony “nourished” the right people in federal bodies, special services, army and political parties. Recently confiscated colony files contain hundreds of names of the so called “friends”. The police experts characterize the colony as the “most dangerous criminal organization on the Chilean territory for complete history of country existence”.

Antichilean implication in the colonists activities is so evident, the reluctance of ex-colony to submit to the legislation of the country that sheltered them is so apparent, that even its most fervent advocates scatter in panic. Giving comments to the events of arrest of Paul Schaefer in Argentina, the Chilean press indicates that the red line of the future legal procedure will not be proof of the aged homosexual guilt.

For more than 40 years comparatively small German “enclave” successfully “resisted” to Chilean authorities, concealing multi-million profits from tax authorities, seducing Chilean children and humiliating their parents. The most important for the country destiny problem is now being solved at the final stage of the Colonia Dignidad affair: is Chilean state capable to administer justice on its own territory?


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