The Colonia Dignidad (now called Villa Barbiera) is a settlement of some 200 secretive German immigrants in southern Chile, founded in 1961 as a charity and education society. It is located on a 15,000-hectare stretch of land along the banks of the Perquilauquen river and the El Lavandero estuary, near Catillo, about 300 kilometers south of Santiago. While the name 'Colonia Dignidad' literally means 'Colony of Righteousness', what seems to have gone on there was about as far from righteous as it could get. The group that dwells there has been variously described as being similar to many millenial cults, and their doctrines seem to revolve around a bizarre blend of Nazism and voodooism. Preparing for the coming of the Fourth Reich...
The colony was founded by one Paul Schäfer, a former SS officer and a fanatic believer in Nazi orthodoxy. This unsavory character is wanted in Germany and elsewhere for child abuse and slave trading, as he had allegedly been kidnapping children from Germany and other European countries, bringing them to the Colonia Dignidad and sexually abusing them. One such victim, Wolfgang Kneese, was abducted by Schäfer and endured a total of nine years of torture and sexual abuse from him both in Germany and later at the Colonia, until he somehow managed to escape in 1966. He founded an organization called Wingbeat in 1997 that dedicated itself to bringing Schäfer and his Colonia to justice. Kneese's attorney in Chile, Hernan Fernandez, says this of the Colonia:
Something like the Colonia Dignidad is an unimaginable horror, hell itself... Normally, child abusers operate in secret. But there someone has built up his own state on 17,000 hectares (sic) to abuse children daily - afternoons, evenings and nights. And although the world has known about it for thirty years, Schaefer is still going his merry way.
In his "pederast heaven" in Chile, Kneese has estimated that Schäfer has probably committed at least 10,000 child rapes. The Colonia also obtains victims from the local peasant population. "The mothers are promised a good education for their children," says Fernandez, "and the boys are taken into the colony." Despite this, the Colonia has enjoyed immunity from investigation until relatively recently, because of Schäfer's close ties to the Pinochet regime (see below).
Ghosts of the Nazi Empire
Besides being a haven for pederasts, it also seems that the Colonia has been a convenient hiding place in South America for escaped war criminals, such as the infamous Angel of Death at Auschwitz Josef Mengele, Klaus Barbie, and allegedly even Martin Bormann (or so say the conspiracy theorists who believe he survived the war and escaped). Walther Rauff, the SS officer who created the mobile gas chambers, is also known to be closely involved with the Colonia, and had been an important adviser to the DINA, the feared secret police of the Pinochet regime, which, under his guidance, ran Chile the way the Gestapo ran Nazi Germany.
The place was also allegedly a training ground for the CIA operatives who helped overthrow the Marxist government of Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973, and installed the regime of Augusto Pinochet. Michael Townley Welch, a CIA officer and the assassin who killed Orlando Letelier (Allende's ambassador to the United States), was also strongly associated with the Colonia. It is said that he designed the remote control torture chambers and state-of-the-art surveillance system that the Colonia uses.
Colonia Dignidad was also used by the DINA as a torture center and prison camp for political prisoners and other enemies of the state. One might even look on the Colonia as a latter-day Nazi-style concentration camp in Latin America. A young medical student named Luis Peebles was sent to the Colonia on February 1975, and spent nine days there, and was tortured horribly:
My body was full of cuts and bruises. I was rotting everywhere. I had pus in my eyes, my nose. My mouth was completely numb. I could feel nothing in my penis and I couldn't feel my limbs. My body was full of cigarette burns...
Despite this, Peebles counts himself as lucky, as many more people who were sent to the Colonia Dignidad joined the ranks of the disappeared. His testimony, along with that of other survivors and a former DINA agent, formed the basis for reports by Amnesty International, the United Nations, and other human rights groups that accused the Colonia Dignidad of being a torture center and prison camp, and of conducting heinous human rights abuses.
Recently, raids have been conducted by the Chilean authorities on the Colonia to find both Paul Schäfer and uncover further evidence (such as mass graves) to support a possible trial against Pinochet for human rights abuses and crimes against humanity. Both have as yet come up fruitless, and with the recent ruling on July 1, 2002 that Pinochet is unfit to stand trial, have stalled.
Update: March 27, 2005: Apparently Paul Schäfer has just been found and captured. He was found hiding in the town of Tortuguitas in Argentina, some 18 miles west of Buenos Aires. The Argentinian government has, at the request of the Chilean government, expelled Schäfer, and he is currently undergoing hearings on sexual abuse charges. (thanks to avalyn for the heads up!)
Editor's update: April 25, 2010: Schäfer was sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined 770 million pesos in 2006. He died in prison, aged 88, on April 24, 2010.
Jens Meyer-Wellmann, "Colonia Dignidad: a Hamburg man hunts sect founder Schaefer", Hamburger Abendblatt, November 3, 1999, http://www.cisar.org/991103d.htm
US State Department, "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (2001): Chile", http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2001/wha/8318.htm
"The Truth About Pinochet: Chile's legacy of torture, murder, international terrorism and 'the disappeared'", http://www.lakota.clara.net/derechos/dignidad.htm
Peter Levenda and Norman Mailer, Unholy Alliance: A History of Nazi Involvement with the Occult
Alicia Sanchez, "RIGHTS-CHILE: Search for Hidden Graves in Colonia Dignidad", http://www.oneworld.org/ips2/jan99/21_15_076.html