Quest still on for American disappeared in Chile

U.S. Math Professor Believed Killed By Pinochet's Secret Police

Santiago Times/March 28, 2007
By Nathan Crooks

Olga Weisfeiler, the sister of an American citizen who disappeared in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship, held an emotional press conference last Thursday morning with U.S. Ambassador Craig Kelly at the American Embassy in Santiago. In her seventh trip to Chile, Weisfeiler urged anyone with information on the fate of her brother Boris to finally come forward. She said it was now time for the truth to come out.

Boris Weisfeiler, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Russia, was a math professor at Pennsylvania State University and disappeared under suspicious circumstances in 1985 while hiking in the south of Chile. Most involved in the case believe he was abducted by the Chilean military, accused of being a communist spy and executed at the infamous Colonia Dignidad, a German cult-colony run by convicted pedophile Paul Schaffer.

Speaking with Ambassador Kelly at her side, Weisfeiler was hopeful that Chile's military and former Colonia Dignidad residents would finally release information that has now been kept secret for over 20 years.

"Our family is just one of many that are still looking and hoping for answers," said Weisfeiler. "The recent death of Pinochet represents a closing of an era for Chile, but many secrets are still being kept."

Ambassador Kelly said he hoped that Chile's ongoing investigation into what occurred at Colonia Dignidad would finally give closure to the Weisfeiler family. "Twenty-two years is a lot of time, but it's not too much time," said Kelly. "There are still a lot of people who know what happened."

Weisfeiler visited the Colonia Dignidad, located near the southern town of Linares, last week but said she left the colony unsatisfied. "I was received well, but I didn't see much of a difference. The residents of the colony continue to say that they don't know anything," she said, expressing frustration similar to what she felt after a 2004 visit to the colony. "I feel nothing," she said. "I'm empty. They keep telling me the same lies."

Despite tremendous efforts by the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, the FBI, and many U.S. lawmakers, no new official information has been released in the case since 1987, when an informant known only as Daniel told the U.S. Embassy that Weisfeiler was alive and "being held like an animal" in Colonia Dignidad.

Weisfeiler ended her statement by making a special plea to Daniel by stating, "If you, or someone who knows who you are, see or read this statement, please come forward."

An unknown history

While the full story behind the cult-colony is still unknown, it is certainly one of the cruelest and most bizarre stories in Chile's recent history. Colony leader Paul Schaefer fled German justice after being accused of pedophilia in 1961 and founded the settlement.

His close relationship with right-wing Chilean political leaders, especially after Pinochet's rise to power in 1973, prevented investigation into crimes he allegedly committed in Germany and in Chile (ST, Jan. 11, 2006).

Besides ruling his followers with an iron fist, Schafer turned the colony into a torture center used by Pinochet's secret police force during the 17-year dictatorship. He is also accused of sexually abusing as many as 10,000 children over a period of 40 years. It was not until Chile's return to democracy in the 1990s that the charitable tax status of his organization was revoked, and Schaefer prosecuted for the crimes he committed in Chile.

Schaefer was sentenced last year to seven years in jail for his involvement with a buried cache of arms found in 2005. He had previously been sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison for the sexual crimes he committed while leading the colony (ST, August 29, 2006).

But many of Schaefer's co-conspirators fled to Argentina and Germany and have yet to be brought to justice.

Remaining colony residents sent a letter last year to Chile's President Michelle Bachelet detailing the various events that occurred in the colony. The letter explained how the colony was created and how Schaefer rose to power. "In order for him to gain absolute power of the colony, we were forced to remove ourselves from the outside world and to cut all ties from our families who remained in Germany," the letter said (ST, April 20, 2006).

In July of last year, a former Colonia Dignidad member provided evidence that political prisoners had been disappeared and then chemically burned at the compound (ST, July 25, 2006).

Most recently, in August of last year, Chile's La Nación newspaper released audio tapes that may have referred to Boris Weisfeiler. The recordings were made by a novice radio enthusiast three months after Weisfeiler's disappearance on April 2, 1985, and feature a conversation, in German, between Colonia Dignidad leaders Kurt Schnellenkamp and Gerhard Mucke.

The conversation centers on an unnamed person who would soon "be buried in the cemetery." Making light of the situation, a voice can be heard saying, "The potatoes are already feeding."

Followers of the case had hoped Judge Jorge Zepeda would interrogate Mucke and Schnellenkamp about conversation, but to date, no new details about the conversation have emerged. Mucke, however, did tell Zepeda that over 22 disappeared people were killed and chemically burnt at the colony (ST, July 25).

Pinochet's government maintained that Weisfeiler had simply drowned while hiking near a river. Chile's Armed Forces have to date remained silent about the issue.

The fight will continue

Despite the passing of time and the frustrating lack of information, Olga Weisfeiler, who has already met with President Michelle Bachelet, vowed to keep on seeking the truth. "I believe in human kindness," she said, hoping that someone would step forward.

Before she left Chile Thursday night, Weisfeiler told the Santiago Times that discovering the truth would allow her to finally go on with her life and end what has been an all-consuming search. Weisfeiler's daughter, who was traveling with her, said that her mother was still totally dedicated to the case and "talks about it every day." The Weisfeilers also said they would like to come to Chile one day as simple tourists and actually enjoy the country they have come to know so well.

When asked what motivated her, Weisfeiler said that she had no choice. "It's my responsibility," she said. "It's not about how close I was to him. He was my brother."

As Weisfeiler left the U.S. Embassy Thursday before returning home to the U.S., her eyes were both teary and determined. While her plight has received widespread press at times, it is still a private and very real battle she lives on a daily basis. Only a full accounting of what happened will give her peace. "The truth should not die with the passing of time," she said. "It should not be buried with those who caused such pain for others."

During the 17 years that Pinochet ruled Chile, over 1,200 political opponents people were murdered or disappeared, at least 27,000 people were tortured and tens of thousands more were forced into exile.

The Santiago Times maintains an in-depth archive of the Boris Weisfeiler case, and Olga maintains a website dedicated to her mission for truth at

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