Nazi child abuser who set up cult held after 8 years on run

The Times (UK)/March 12, 2005
By Tom Hennigan

Sao Paulo -- A former Nazi who founded an extremist sect of German immigrants in Chile has been arrested in Argentina, eight years after he disappeared following charges of child abuse and torture.

Paul Schaefer, 83, was arrested in his bed in a luxury gated community 20 miles from the centre of Buenos Aires. Police there were able to track him down after spotting one of his followers enter the country from Uruguay. Police also arrested Schaefer's daughter, nurse and bodyguards.

Chile welcomed the capture of one of its most wanted fugitives and has asked Argentina to expel Schaefer quickly and so avoid the need for a lengthy extradition process.

Schaefer is also wanted in connection with the torture and disappearance of opponents of General Augusto Pinochet during Chile's "dirty war."

He disappeared in 1997 after being charged by Chilean authorities with abusing 26 children at the compound of the sect he ruled. He was convicted in absentia last year. A total of 22 of his followers were also found guilty of covering up the abuse and obstructing justice.

A corporal and medical specialist in the German Army, Schaefer became a fundamentalist preacher after the war. Forced to flee accusations of child abuse in Germany, he relocated with his followers to Chile in 1961, where he founded Colonia Dignidad (Dignity Colony) 200 miles south of the capital Santiago.

Schaefer, who cultivated a god-like status among his followers, preached a harsh regime of work and discipline on the 55-square-mile compound as a way of leading his followers closer to the supreme being.

In his attempt to recreate an austere version of 1930s rural Bavaria, he made residents work on the cult's farms seven days a week. Women were allowed only to wear peasant dresses and men had to keep their hair short.

Schaefer strictly controlled relations between the sexes and even holding hands was forbidden. He reportedly administered drugs to control the sex drive of some followers.

But from its early years Colonia Dignidad was caught up in accusations of abuse. In 1966 an 18-year-old boy fled saying Schaefer had sexually assaulted him. The authorities closed the case a year later, however, saying there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.

A silence of those who remained at Dignidad was to frustrate authorities until the mid-1990s despite a trickle of residents who fled what they said was widespread abuse.

The cult, able to sustain itself by farming and forestry, lived behind electric fences patrolled by armed guards and dogs. Most members had little contact with the outside world and did not bother to learn Spanish.

Critics in Chile had said that the compound risked becoming a state within a state. But the pressure eased on the cult after the coup that placed General Pinochet in power in 1973.

Schaefer was close to leading figures in the military regime and placed the compound at the service of the secret police. According to Amnesty International, 119 people were sent for torture to Dignidad.

Several of those prisoners were never seen again. Boris Weisfeiler, an American maths professor of Russian Jewish origin who was on a hiking holiday in the area, is among those believed to have "disappeared".

Investigators say that he was dropped off at Dignidad in 1985 by a military patrol which had arrested him for spying. Mr Weisfeiler's family say that they received reports that he was seen alive up to two years later inside the compound.

The compound is now in the hands of a reform committee and has been renamed Villa Baviera. Residents are now free to come and go and visiting tourists are welcome. Up to 300 people still live there, most of them elderly Germans.

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