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Chile to preserve Colonia Dignidad cult archive

2016-06-27 Source:kaiwind Author:Astrid Prange

Chilean authorities have declared the archive of the notorious Colonia Dignidad cult to be part of its "national heritage. " The German-led community had cooperated with the Pinochet regime.

Colonia Dignidad's documents spelling out the torture and other abuses that happened in the cult are important in investigating crimes of the Chilean military dictatorship, the National Monuments Council said while announcing its decision to preserve the archive.

The closed, cult-like community was set up in 1961 by former Nazi and convicted pedophile Paul Schäfer, ushering his decades-long rule over hundreds of mostly German expats. Schäfer and other cult members molested children and prevented adults from leaving the estate in central Chile.

After General Augusto Pinochet took power in Chile in 1973, the cult leadership started cooperating with the regime and offering their premises as a torture camp and a warehouse for weapons and poison gas.

Chile returned to democracy with Pinochet stepping down in 1990, leading to a public shift on the German enclave. Schäfer was forced to flee the country in 1997, but was arrested in 2005 and died in prison in 2010.

A scene from the film Colonia staring Daniel Brühl and Ema Watson

Berlin's regrets

Activists in Chile welcomed the decision to proclaim Colonia's extensive archive "national heritage." Margarita Romero, head of Association for Memory and Human Rights in Colonia Dignidad, called the decision a "milestone" in dealing with the past.

"Protecting the documents will undoubtedly open doors towards truth, justice and remembrance of crimes against humanity committed by Colonia Dignidad and the Chilean military dictatorship," she added.

Earlier this year, the German Foreign Ministry made its documents on the cult between 1986 and 1996 available to the public. Berlin's top diplomat, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, stated on this occasion that Germany's representatives had done too little to help the victims.

However, Germany might still imprison the high-ranking cult member Hartmut Hopp, who served as Schäfer's right-hand man.

Hopp fled to Germany from Chile in 2011, after a court in the South American country found him guilty of 16 counts of aiding child abuse. As a German citizen, he is protected from extradition.

Earlier this month, prosecutors in Krefeld called for a German court to uphold Hopp's five-year sentence from Chile, saying the proceedings had corresponded with German judiciary standards. The court is due to announce its decision in the coming weeks.

The story of Colonia Dignidad was made into a movie staring Daniel Brühl and Ema Watson last year.



No charity here. "Dignity Charitable and Educational Society" was the full name of the isolated settlement Colonia Dignidad in southern Chile. The sect was founded in 1961 by the German evangelical youth worker Paul Schäfer, who came from Bonn. It served as a torture center during Chile's military dictatorship (1973 - 1990).

"Uncle Paul". In the 1950s, Paul Schäfer abused children from a Baptist church in Germany. During the investigation of his case, he fled to Chile, where he founded Colonia Dignidad. He sexually abused the children who were forced to work there - some of them were actually abducted from Germany. "Uncle Paul" maintained good relations with right-wing extremist circles.

Evil mastermind. Opponents of the military regime were tortured and murdered at Colonia Dignidad. Electric shocks were used for child abuse. After the end of the dictatorship in 1990, Paul Schäfer went undercover, escaping justice once again. He was arrested in Buenos Aires in 2005 and was sentenced to jail for 25 cases of sexual abuse. On April 24, 2010, he died in a prison in Santiago de Chile.

Where are our children?On May 5, 1988, relatives of the young people detained in the Colonia Dignidad demonstrated in front of the settlement. The founder of the sect, Paul Schäfer, claimed he wanted to build an original Christian community there. In reality, during General Pinochet's dictatorship, the colony served as a branch of the Chilean secret service Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA).

The colony after Pinochet. Patricio Aylwin, the President of Chile from 1990 to 1994, declared that Colonia Dignidad was "a state within the state." As the first elected head of state after the dictatorship (pictured here with Pinochet), he led the country's transition to democracy and tried to close down the enclave. In 1991, he withdrew the charitable status of the settlement.

Late atonement. Kurt Schnellenkamp, co-founder of Colonia, was imprisoned in 2013. The 88-year-old was sentenced by the Chilean state for unlawful detention of minors and sexual abuse. His son Klaus, who escaped from the settlement, reported on his childhood in the totalitarian sect in his book "Born in the Shadow of Fear," published in 2007.

Still on the loose. The former vice-chief and medical doctor of Colonia Dignidad, Hartmut Hopp, fled to Germany after being sentenced in Chile in 2011. Although there is an international arrest warrant out against Hopp, Germany allows him to live undisturbed in Krefeld, as the country does not extradite its own citizens. In the 1980s, Hopp often acted as a spokesman for the cult.

A trip to the past. Former residents of the colony still live on the 30,000-hectare area near the southern Chilean city of Parral. The dorms, where men, women and children used to sleep separately, were converted into apartments for families.

Welcome to atrocity land. Unbelievable, but true: Now that Colonia Dignidad's totalitarian leadership has been dismantled, the remaining residents promote tourism at the settlement. The colony, now called Villa Baviera, offers jeep tours, organizes a yearly Oktoberfest, and is planning a museum dealing with its dark past. Many people are against the idea of making an entertainment village out of this location.

Many still missing. The search continues. In 2005, the Chilean state released a secret archive file found at the former Colonia Dignidad. The archive indexes approximately 39,000 individuals. Human rights groups still hope to uncover the fate of the many people who disappeared during the Pinochet dictatorship.