Colonia Dignidad In Chile â€“ Fall Of The â€œgodsâ€
Some 350 kilometers from Santiago de Chile a highway cuts through the humble agricultural town of Parral, a place where one of the greatest poets of the 20th century - Pablo Neruda - was born. One can exit there; then take a narrow picturesque country road straight towards the Andes and to the hot springs of Termas di Catillo.
In July 2005, Chilean officials finally discovered caches of machine guns and rocket-launchers, thousands of rusty rifles and endless boxes of ammunition. Interior Minister Jorge Correa declared: "We're talking about a large arsenal and I must stress that it's going to end up being the largest ever found in private hands in the life and history of Chile."
In the early 90's, your correspondent spent several months investigating this institution, interviewing dozens of political prisoners from the area, farmers as well as defectors from the colony itself. He was amassing the evidence but there was absolutely no interest in the story: not in Chile, not in Germany, nor anywhere else. Colony had powerful allies including leading Chilean businessmen and lawyers and top ranking members of the military. Despite the collapse of dictatorship, the colony seemed to be untouchable.
Schaefer managed to indoctrinate his followers forcing them to transfer their savings and pension plans to the common financial pool of the sect. After moving to Chile, members were forced to give up all their rights; laboring on the fields, living in dormitories (men and women separately) and cut off all contacts with the surrounding world.
Official status of the colony was that of social institution. Doctors were treating (free of charge) local children and adults; school was open to the outsiders from surrounding villages and towns. Only much later was it discovered that while under anesthesia, several patients had their organs removed from their bodies. In exchange for free education, children had to labor in the fields and undergo intensive indoctrination. Leaders of the colony were spreading the word among Chilean villagers that they were visited by the white Gods who arrived in order to save them from their misery.
Those few members who managed to escape spoke of torture and of chemicals as well as powerful drugs which were given to the members in order to keep them in a constant lethargic state. Letters between Germany and the colony had been censored; radio, newspapers and television sets banned, contact with the surrounding world reduced to a minimum.
For decades, Chilean immigration policy (as well as that of the neighboring Argentina) was racist. Chile was open almost exclusively to Germans, Austrians, and Czechs - people it believed had high work ethics. Anti-Communist and anti-Semitic to an extreme, the Colony managed to find countless allies in the rank of local elites.
"Right after the coup, the Chilean military didn't know how to torture", said Adriana Borquez during our long talk in early 90's. "Prisoners would die very quickly... Germans in the colony knew how to keep a person alive for several days or weeks while putting him or her through the most terrible agony and humiliation."
During the dictatorship, ties between the military junta and the leadership of the colony became increasingly close. The Colony's doctor became a personal medic of Pinochet's wife. Schaefer and Pinochet were exchanging expensive gifts which included Mercedes sedans. Large parts of the funds for the construction of above mentioned motorway connecting capital city with the South were channeled through the colony.
In 1985, even the US State Department had to begin its investigation into a disappearance of one of the US citizens. That year, Boris Weisfeiler, an American mathematics professor - a Russian Jewish immigrant - went hiking in the region. He had been detained by the members of the colony and later executed on Schaefer's orders.
In 1997, Paul Schaefer (officially declared dead for more than a decade) fled Chile. He had been arrested in March, in a suburb of Buenos Aires. Several members of the colony (now still functioning under the name of Villa Baviera) are behind bars, facing prosecution on the charges ranging from torture and murder to the sexual abuse of minors. Continuous raids of Chilean police are finally bringing enough evidence to keep them in prison for the rest of their lives.