|BUENOS AIRES, March 21 (JTA) — An
ex-Nazi-turned-commune-founder is facing multiple charges of child
abuse, torture and murders in Chile.
Paul Schaefer, founder of the a secretive German enclave in
southern Chile called Colonia Dignidad, or Dignity Colony, fled
Chile in 1997.
For more than seven years he had been a fugitive; that ended when
he was arrested by Argentine Interpol officers in a suburb or Buenos
Aires on March 10. He was then deported to Chile.
According to witnesses inside the Chilean courtroom where he
appeared March 14, Schaefer, 83, appeared dazed and confused. He
barely spoke during the court proceedings.
Schaefer was a corporal in the German army during World War II.
In the 1950s he founded a religious sect but was accused of child
abuse. He fled Germany for Belgium and then Chile.
In 1961, living in Chile, Schaefer founded Colonia Dignidad. The
group, some 500 people, mostly of them German or Chilean, lived on a
40,000-acre compound about 250 miles south of Chile’s capital,
The community created an impenetrable security system., with
cameras at its gates and a wall encircling the enclave. Members also
built a series of underground bunkers and tunnels. It is thought
that Schaefer escaped through one of the tunnels that allegedly
extends to nearby Argentine territory. It is believed as well that
the same tunnel allowed a number of Nazis thought to have lived in
southern Argentine and Chile to have escape in both directions.
The community grew to be an economic powerhouse, with food
manufacturing, tourism and mining operations, and it developed close
ties with both regional and national police forces, politicians, and
the military and judicial establishments. Its businesses were so
large that one Chilean government official claimed that Colonia
Dignidad owes more than $5 million in back taxes.
In the late 1960s a few people began to escape from the heavily
guarded compound, bringing with them charges of pedophilia and
virtual enslavement of the community’s young members through the
sophisticated use of drugs. No action was taken against the group,
During the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, from
1973 to 1988, the colony was used as a torture center, according to
testimony given to the Rettig Commission, which investigated
military atrocities in the early 1990s. A number of “disappeared”
persons were seen last in the barracks at Colonia Dignidad.
According to the commission’s report, “It is imperative for the
Commission to examine and make known its conclusions with respect to
the charges that have been made against Colonia Dignidad. Through
some kind of agreement with the DINA” — the Chilean secret police —
“and the leaders of that place, political prisoners were held and
tortured there. It is particularly important to investigate the
charges that Colonia Dignidad had been the last place where many of
these prisoners — today disappeared — were last seen alive.”
Yet Schaefer maintained his power until 1997, when the charges of
child abuse forced him to flee the country.
“We want to congratulate the Argentine government and the local
Interpol authorities for capturing this dangerous man,” said Sergio
Widder, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s South American
“We also thank the Argentine government and Interior Minister
Anibal Fernandez for quickly expelling Schaefer so he can go on
trial in Chile.”
“This is a great opportunity, given that Walter Rauff lived for
many years in Chile, much of that time under the protection of
Pinochet, and Rauff had contacts with Colonia Dignidad,” Widder
said. “We have an opportunity to interrogate Schaefer about Rauff.
It is also possible that with the information that he gives in his
depositions we might get information on other Nazi war criminals
still alive and living in Chile.”
Rauff was a Nazi war criminal who escaped to Chile after the war
and lived a protected life there until he died in 1984. Rauff,
considered the developer of the mobile gas chamber, was buried in
the Santiago’s central cemetery as mourners hailed him with the Nazi
Pascale Bonnefoy, a freelance journalist who has written
extensively about Colonia Dignidad and Paul Schaefer, is not sure
that the Nazi issue will be raised.
“It seems no one is expecting Schaefer to actually say anything,
provide any useful information,” Bonnefoy said. “But what is
increasingly clear is that the new Colonia leadership and some
colony members may be more willing to talk, in part because of a
change in image, in part because they may feel safer now to talk.
“It is such an emblematic case, a ‘monument to impunity,’ as one
Chilean government spokesman described Schaefer,” Bonnefoy
continued. “There is such public attention and pressure for Schaefer
to be tried quickly and effectively. However, there is some fear
that Schaefer will look to square old accounts with his buddies in
powerful positions. He has so much information on everyone, I am
sure there are a lot of people trembling out there.”
Olga Weisfeiler’s brother Boris, a Russian Jewish emigre
mathematics professor at Princeton and Penn State University,
disappeared in 1984 while hiking near Colonia Dignidad. She agrees
that Schaefer will not talk but hopes that the code of silence will
“I don’t expect that Schaefer will say anything about Boris or
about anything at all, but others may,” she said. “After Schaefer’s
arrest, Colonia’s new leader right away publicly admitted that human
rights abuses were committed on Colonia’s grounds, so it may be very
possible they will tell the truth about Boris’ fate as well as of
the other prisoners.”
Weisfeiler is the only U.S. citizen whose disappearance during
the dictatorship in Chile remains unsolved. State Department
documents released in the last few years show that Weisfeiler was
seen inside the colony, living in slave-like conditions, two years
after his disappearance, according to a Chilean former intelligence
officer who gave testimony to U.S. Embassy officials.