Colonia Dignidad: Chile's colony of crime
It was called Colonia Dignidad, but dignity was nowhere to be found in this isolated settlement in Chile. Now called Villa Baviera, the "Bavarian" village wants to attract tourists on the former torture site.
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).
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.
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).
Shaking hands with the dictator
The former CSU chairman Franz Josef Strauss (left) entertained good relations with Chile's dictator Augusto Pinochet (right), pictured here during a state visit in November 1977. He was also a welcome guest at Colonia Dignidad. Until the mid-1990s, a signed portrait of the former Prime Minister of Bavaria was hanging in the central building of the settlement.
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.
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.
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.