On a fateful day in 1976, Dr. Ivan Insunza was driving to work along the streets of Santiago, the Chilean capital, when members of Gen. Augusto Pinochet's secret police blocked his car and took him to an unknown location. Insunza was never seen alive again and the only clue about his fate appeared in 2006, when his car was found buried in the "Colonia Dignidad" (Dignity Colony), a large farm with a total area of 17,000 square hectares.
It was precisely during Pinochet's 17-year rule that the Colony increased its power and influence in Chilean society. On Jan. 17, 2007, I was shocked to read in the local press that the Chilean "State Defense Council" has appointed Herman Chadwick, once a high ranking official of the Pinochet regime, as a trustee to manage the financial matters of the Colony.
The "Colonia Dignidad" episode must be the most shameful of its kind not only in Chilean history but also for the world, since a proven murderer and pedophile such as Paul Schaeffer was allowed to carry out his crimes for nearly 50 years.
Paul Schaeffer was born in Germany on Dec. 4, 1921 and from an early age he became notorious for his hatred of women. At age 11, Schaeffer lost his right eye during a fight with a classmate. At the height of the Nazi regime, Schaeffer became a proud member of the "Hitler Youth," but due to his defective vision was rejected entry into the German Army. Instead Schaeffer was posted as a nurse on the western front, where he became an expert in the use of drugs and tranquilizers, a skill that would prove very helpful for him later on.
After the end of World War II, Schaeffer returned to Germany, where he was employed by an evangelical organization that took care of orphaned children. In 1952 Schaeffer was expelled from the organization since he was accused of sexual abuse by several of the children. Afterwards Schaeffer became a traveling preacher, and in 1957 formed his own "Private Social Mission," and ended up in a town called Heide in charge of a home for families that had been traumatized by the war.
At the house, one of Schaeffer's first rules was to separate the adults from the children, and everyone under his control would have to "confess their sins" to Schaeffer every day. He would use this information to blackmail his followers by threatening to reveal their secrets.
By the end of the 50s, with the German police following his footsteps, Schaeffer managed to convince the adults in the "Private Social Mission" about the need to move to a faraway land where they would not be harassed and could live in peace. Schaeffer could not have a chosen a better location than Chile, practically on the other side of the world from Germany. Despite having an arrest warrant against him, Schaeffer and a group of 30 children were able to cross several European borders and travel to Chile, where he settled in 1961.
Most of the elders were former members of the SS, the Gestapo, and other Nazi organizations. They included Albert Schreiber, who was appointed Head of Security and was nicknamed the "spy"; Gerhard Mucke, Head of Schaeffer's bodyguards; and Winfried Schmidtke, an expert in electronic surveillance and telecommunications.
Initially the "Dignity Colony" was granted 3,000 square hectares in the south of Chile, approximately 400 kilometers south of Santiago. The main settlement was named "Villa Bavaria" and was built 40 kilometers away from the main entry gate. From the first day, Schaeffer instructed that the borders of the Colony be fenced.
With the 300 settlers working every day for 18 hours, Villa Bavaria soon had a hospital and a school and its farm was producing goods that were sold at the market in the nearby town of Parral. The hospital and school were crucial for the Colony's public relations, since the peasants from the nearby settlements were treated at the Hospital and their children attended the school. Also this allowed Schaeffer and his associates to come into contact with the peasant children, many of whom were adopted and began to live inside the Colony.
From the moment the German citizens arrived in the colony, their only task was to work and carry out the orders given by Schaeffer and the elders. They were forced to take tranquilizer drugs every day and were not allowed to listen to the radio, read newspapers, or walk alone -- they always had to go in pairs.
Soon the people under Schaeffer's control lost all contact with the outside world and remained frozen in time, living as in post-war Germany. Everyone mistrusted each other since Schaeffer had instructed that anyone speaking against him should be denounced. The only pastime for the men was to sing traditional German songs in a chorus, while the women were taught to play classical instruments.
According to Schaeffer's teachings, to live in a family was a sin, while the most important task was to work for the community. Women were a direct creation of Satan, in contrast to men, who were the creation of God. No one was allowed to have sexual relationships with other followers at the Colony.
At Villa Bavaria families were divided and the men, women, and girls slept in separate barracks while the boys were accommodated on the other side of the Villa in a hostel known as the "KinderHaus" (children's house in German), which was conveniently located next to Schaeffer's private cottage. It was Schaeffer's daily routine to choose a boy to accompany him for the night.
Even if Schaeffer's followers were subjected to constant mind control techniques and were forced to take daily doses of drugs, some did begin to revolt. The first such case occurred in 1966, when Wolfang Muller attempted to escape from Villa Bavaria. In Germany, Schaeffer had convinced Muller's mother to allow him to travel to Chile. Muller arrived in Chile at age 15, and soon rebelled against Schaeffer's sexual abuse and slave labor. One day Muller escaped and reached a nearby peasant settlement, but there he was given over to the Chilean police, who returned him back to Villa Bavaria.
When Muller returned to the compound, he was subjected to torture with electroshocks, beaten, and humiliated by the leaders of the sect.
In his second escape, Muller reached Santiago and contacted his mother, who traveled from Germany to meet him. However, Schaeffer's men went to Santiago and deceived her into accompanying them to "see her son." Instead, Muller's mother was taken to Villa Bavaria, where she was drugged and detained in the hospital. Meanwhile Wolfgang's story had been published in the local press, and the outcry forced Schaeffer to free his mother, who together with Wolfgang returned to Germany.
Meanwhile Schaeffer had run away to neighboring Argentina, from where he accused Wolfgang of being "mentally insane". After a sham trial in the Chilean courts, Schaeffer was absolved of all charges.
While Schaeffer, or the "Uncle" as he liked to be called, was the charismatic leader of the sect, the group of "elders" were all former Gestapo and military personnel who had knowledge of advanced spying techniques. As soon as they settled in Chile, many influential politicians, judges, businessmen, and police officers were invited to visit the Colony. Already Schaeffer's men had begun to create individual files full of personal details of their guests. Many of them fell into the trap set up by the Germans, and indulged in sexual activities with boys or girls at the Colony. Many were filmed and photographed carrying out sex acts, and the evidence was later used to blackmail the officials into helping them protect Villa Bavaria. Over the years Schaeffer created a very powerful network of supporters among the Chilean elite.
Thanks to these influential supporters, the Muller episode was covered up, Schaeffer was absolved of all accusations, and Dignity Colony managed to continue its activities until 1970, when Salvador Allende, the leader of a left-wing coalition that included Socialists and Communists, was elected president. This set off alarms within the colony as the Allende government planned to shut it down.
Schaeffer and his associates began to actively support the opposition to Allende, especially "Patria y Libertad," a right-wing paramilitary group that carried out armed actions against Allende's followers. Many "Patria y Libertad " members were trained at Villa Bavaria and most of its weapons were smuggled in through its territory.
According to Amnesty International, after Allende was overthrown in 1973, Villa Bavaria became a detention center for political prisoners. Nearly 100 prisoners were taken to the Colony, where they were killed and their bodies made to disappear, while many others were tortured by Schaeffer and his associates.
The head of Pinochet's secret police, Manuel Contreras, became a close associate of Schaeffer's, and many of his agents were trained at the Colony. It was during this period that the Colony became a "state within a state." For example, no airplanes were allowed to fly over its territory without authorization from the control tower at the Villa Bavaria airfield. Most probably this airfield was used to smuggle weapons and drugs, a charge that has been corroborated by several witnesses.
In 1985 Boris Weisfeiler, an American-Jewish scientist, decided to visit Chile, in spite of warnings by his sister due to the unstable political situation of the Pinochet regime. With a group of friends he traveled to a forest area near the Colony, where one day Weisfeiler went on a walk by himself but never returned. According to a C.I.A. report, Chilean police detained him near the boundary of the Colony and then handed him over to Schaeffer and his associates. Weisfeiler's Jewish origin obviously arose suspicions and most probably Weisfeiler was murdered at Villa Bavaria. The CIA report states that "an informant heard a radio conversation where Paul Schaeffer said in German, 'Don't worry, I solved the problem. That guy is now eating potatoes underground.'"
Another version appeared in an article published in June 2006 by La Nacion, a local newspaper. In 1997 "Daniel", a former Chilean military officer, met with the U.S Consul and Vice-Consul in Santiago. Daniel informed Larry Huffman and Philip Antweiler that in 1985 he was part of the patrol that captured Boris Weisfeiler in a mountain area near to the Dignity Colony and then took Weisfeiler to Villa Bavaria, where he was last seen alive. Also some peasants that worked at the Colony declared that they had seen Weisfeiler inside the Colony's compound, but since then, after receiving death threats, they have fled to Argentina.
Two of the Army personnel that took part in the patrol appeared dead on the same day, Dec. 4, 2000. One appeared drowned in a nearby river and the other was found dead, shot twice in the head. Was "Daniel" one of them?
Olga Weisfeiler has traveled to Chile several times to meet the authorities and make inquiries about her brother's fate. In 2006 she met Michelle Bachelet when the Chilean president was on a state visit to the United States.
In 1989, Elcira Villagran, a Chilean citizen who lived in a farm near the Colony was more fortunate than Weisfeiler. Elcira became curious about the noise she heard almost every night and on one occasion she ventured near the Villa Bavaria airfield. During an interview given to "Contacto," a Chilean TV news program, Elcira described what she saw.
"As soon as it got dark, the planes would begin landing, then trucks would arrive and men would load or unload cargo. Also it seems there was an underground hangar in the mountains, because suddenly the planes would disappear into the side of the mountain. It was incredible.
"On another occasion that I walked into the Dignity Colony I was intercepted by a group of men led by an elderly man with a glass eye. 'What are you doing here? You must be a spy!' the old man shouted at me in broken Spanish."
After a long argument, Elcira managed to convince the Germans that she was not a spy and had wandered into their territory by mistake. "Some time later I saw the old man's photograph in the press. It was Paul Schaeffer!"
Some months later Elcira took another risk and posed as a sick person who needed attention at the Villa Bavaria hospital. "As I waited for my checkup I walked around the garden and saw a flash in the top of a tree. After a close look I saw a camera moving. It seems the place is full of them," said Elcira.
After the end of the Pinochet regime in 1990, due to pressure by the German government and human rights groups, the Dignity Colony suffered its first major blow. The Chilean government canceled its title of "welfare society" and its tax exemption allowance. In 1996, Judge Hernan Gonzalez indicted Paul Schaeffer on five counts of rape and 20 counts of sexual abuse against children. Since Schaeffer did not show up in court for the hearing, Judge Gonzalez ordered his detention. From then on Villa Bavaria was searched several times by Chilean police, but Schaeffer was never arrested.
"Contacto's" reporters discover Schaeffer's hideout
When Schaeffer was finally arrested on March 10, 2005 in Argentina, the Chilean government, headed by Ricardo Lagos, declared that it had been due to a "joint operation with the Argentinean police." However, Salvador Bellusci of Interpol Argentina denied this version. "It was thanks to some important information given to us by Hernan Fernandez and Carola Fuentes a journalist with Chile's Channel 13, that we were able to get Schaeffer."
Schaeffer's final days at large began on January 2004, when a team of reporters from a television investigation program called "Contacto" discovered the German pedophile's hideout in Argentina. The leader of Dignity Colony was hiding in a large farm near the town of Chivilcoy, 300 km. southwest of Buenos Aires.
One of the reporters known as "Gustavo" used a hidden camera and went to live near to the farmhouse called "La Solita" (the lonely farm in Spanish). Gustavo posed as a Spanish university graduate who was studying the immigrant communities in South America. After several months of surveillance, the Contacto team deduced that Schaeffer was most probably inside the farmhouse, guarded by Peter Schmidt, Friedhelm Zeitner, Mathias Gerlacht, and Rebecca Schaeffer. The only one of the group that had any contact with the neighbors was Friedhelm Zeitner, who called himself "Felipe."
One day Gustavo made a big breakthrough as he was able to talk to Felipe at the house of a farm laborer. Gustavo was able to confirm the German's real identity, when Felipe said that his surname was Friedhelm, which is really his first name. Also Felipe lied to Gustavo by saying that he had been born in Germany while he had really been born in the Dignity Colony some 40 years earlier.
The team from Contacto were not sure if Schaeffer was at "La Solita" but Carola Fuentes did find out that Schaeffer had been to Buenos Aires twice for bypass surgery. Some months later Contacto decided to contact Interpol Argentina, since Peter Schmidt had not been seen at the farm for several months and he was Schaeffer's main bodyguard. Interpol began to follow Schmidt in Buenos Aires and established that Schaeffer was now living in a house in the suburb of Tortuguitas.
Contacto had one of the highest viewer ratings in Chile's television history when on March 2005 it aired the precise moment when Paul Schaeffer was arrested. The Contacto camera crew followed the police as it broke into the house, arresting the bodyguards and Schaeffer himself, who was lying on a bed. Beside him the police found several homosexual pornographic magazines and the only words Schaeffer pronounced were "Pero por que?" (But why?) as he was handcuffed.
Efrain Vedder's life story is the best example of how the sect members were treated. Vedder's real name is Jose Efrain Morales, born in 1967 to a family of peasants that lived near the borders of Dignity Colony. At two months of age, his mother took Efrain to the "Villa Bavaria Hospital" since he was suffering from a severe cold. From then on the Germans told his mother that Efrain was still under "treatment", but after several months his relatives became suspicious and went to claim the baby. The Germans threatened the Morales family and the local judge did nothing to solve the case.
In 1976, Efrain was illegally adopted by Johanna Vedder , a member of the sect. At age eight Efrain was forced to take drugs, but since he rebelled against the pills he was injected and given electroshocks. At this same time he began to be sexually assaulted by Paul Schaeffer and soon became one of his assistants or "sprinters."
In an interview given to La Nacion in 2004 , Efrain explained how he was abused. Even though he is a Chilean citizen, Efrain speaks with a strong German accent. "Schaeffer took me and another boy to his room, where there were three beds. I was really drugged that night, but I remember that after raping me, he went and raped the other boy. I continued to have sex with Schaeffer until I was 26."
La Nacion: How were you made to work at the Colony?
"I worked from 8 a.m until 11 p.m, every single day. They only began to pay me a few months before I left the Colony. They were paying me US$300, but they discounted me for lodging, food, washing my clothes, everything, in the end I received $100. Most of us did not know what money was until Schaeffer ran away in 1997," said Efrain.
La Nacion: What important people did you see at Villa Bavaria?
"Pinochet used to arrive in a helicopter along with Manuel Contreras (Head of the Secret Police). Of the civilians I saw Jaime Guzman, Hernan Larrain, and Horst Paulmann. I am sure because I have seen them on television. All the mayors and police chiefs of the area were friends of Schaeffer's; they always alerted him before a search began."
La Nacion: Have you been helped by the Chilean state since you left the Colony?
"None of the governments or presidents have helped us."
In 2004 Efrain's lawyer wrote a letter to then President Ricardo Lagos (a member of the Socialist Party) detailing his experience in the Colony, part of which is as follows:
"We believe that the Chilean state must assist Efrain to integrate into society, since the state is partly responsible for the abuse and torture inflicted on this Chilean citizen by a group of foreigners that have caused so much harm to our nation."
Some days later Efrain and his lawyer received the following reply:
"The Presidential Office acknowledges receipt of this information and has requested the Minister of Interior to take any actions that may be necessary." Since then nothing has happened and Efrain has not received any kind of state assistance.
Apart from the before mentioned Augusto Pinochet and Manuel Contreras, some other Chilean and foreign nationals that backed the Dignity Colony were :