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Olga Weisfeiler's brother Boris disappeared near Colonia Dignidad in 1985
ST Photo - Irene Caselli


400 Sign Open Letter To Lagos, Including U.S. Legislators

(Nov. 25, 2004) The families of Boris Weisfeiler and Maarten Visser will deliver an open letter to President Ricardo Lagos today, calling for an investigation into Colonia Dignidad. They believe their relatives, who disappeared in 1985, were detained at the German enclave in southern Chile.

Among the 400 signatories from 16 countries are parliamentarians, academics, human rights campaigners including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Ethical Commission Against Torture, captains of industry and former colonists.

“We demand the Chilean government take and promote energetic and definitive action with regard to human rights violations in the former Colonia Dignidad, freeing its inhabitants, granting them the help they need and pursuing those found to be responsible,” the letter says.

Sergio Laurenti, executive director of Amnesty International Chile, told The Santiago Times the letter “will put pressure on the government and those responsible to talk. It cannot do too much but it demonstrates the concerns of 400 people. We hope that the government will listen.”

Colonia Dignidad was founded in 1961 by Paul Schaefer as a 17,000-hectare farming community for fellow expatriates near the Argentine border in Region VIII, with the ostensible aim of providing health care and education for the rural poor of the area. Schaefer had fled child molestation charges in his native Germany.

Colonia Dignidad was used as an intelligence and detention center by agents of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s military government and its leaders became all but untouchable, despite reports they were abducting and abusing local children. Escapees told of sexual abuse, forced labor and abduction.

In 1998, Schaefer went underground after a warrant was issued for his arrest. Since then he has been a fugitive and the colony, now known as Villa Baviera, has been in decline (ST, Oct. 6).

Olga Weisfeiler, the sister of one of the foreigners believed to have been held at Colonia Dignidad, also presented personal letters to Lagos, one signed by U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, another by Rep. Barney Frank, pressing Chilean authorities to seek a resolution to her brother’s case.

“I would like to help put more pressure on the government to open up all Chile, all the human rights cases,” Olga told The Santiago Times.

She is sure that Colonia Dignidad will be mentioned in the soon to be published Valech Report into torture during the1973-1990 dictatorship.

On Jan. 4, 1985, Boris Weisfeiler, a Russian-born Jew and naturalized U.S. citizen, was taking a 10-day walking holiday in southern Chile when he vanished. After a cursory investigation, the Chilean authorities concluded he had drowned in the Nuble River in Region VIII.

But U.S. State Department documents declassified later revealed that in 1987 a man known only as “Daniel,” an agent working for Pinochet’s secret police, informed the U.S. Embassy in Santiago that he had been part of the team that arrested Weisfeiler and took him to Colonia Dignidad, claiming that he was a “Jewish spy.”

According to the Embassy’s memo on the meeting with Daniel, “The only explanation of these unusual practices his (Daniel’s) superiors offered him is that Colonia Dignidad is a good ally.”

In 2000, a rare inspection of Colonia Dignidad, now officially renamed Villa Bavaria, found a thin folder labeled “Boris Weisfeiler.”

Olga has made visited Chile four times since Boris’ disappearance, for an investigation into her brother’s disappearance. She believes, as she stated in an earlier letter to Lagos in 2000, that the solution to the riddle of her brother’s whereabouts lies in Colonia Dignidad: “Only unrestricted access to its territory would solve numerous crimes that took place there and help its residents to gain freedom” (ST, March 8).

The upshot of Olga’s lobbying was a recent letter from Edward Kennedy to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, asking that the matter be put on the agenda for President George W. Bush’s meeting with Lagos in July. When the two leaders met, Weisfeiler’s case was raised. U.S. officials assured the Weisfeiler family that the White House “will continue handling this matter with the Chilean government, both in Washington and in Santiago.” (ST, Oct. 6)

Shortly after his return from Washington, Lagos asked the Ministry of the Interior to provide a report on Weisfeiler and Colonia Dignidad. In October, the German and Chilean governments agreed to compensate colonists who agreed to leave the enclave.

Tuesday, Olga met Craig Kelly, the U.S. ambassador to Chile, who pledged the Embassy’s support for her campaign. Boris’ case is on file with the Chilean police as “unresolved.”

The parents of Martin Visser are also in Santiago to deliver the open letter.

Visser was 18 when he disappeared Dec 12, 1985. He had traveled from Holland to South America by sea as a working passenger and was last seen as he set off to climb the Osorno Volcano in Chile’s Region X.

Ten days later, Visser’s parents were contacted by the Dutch consulate in Santiago and told that Maarten “has had an accident on the volcano and you will not see him any more.”

In 1990, the Vissers were contacted by a man who gave a fake name. “He told me, ‘Your son is alive and was in Colonia Dignidad,’” Loes Visser, Maarten’s mother, told The Santiago Times.

In 2004, Pascalle Bonnefoy, a journalist for La Nación who has written extensively on the Weisfeiler case, was told that while Weisfeiler was at Colonia Dignidad, a young Dutch man known as “The Pirate” was also there. Visser’s parents say their son was the only Dutchman missing in southern Chile at the time.

“I hope that someone will put pressure to open Colonia Dignidad, because there are horrible things happening there – maybe still happening there. It must be exposed; it must be out in the open,” Loes Visser said.

Earlier this month, 22 senior colonists and nine Chileans received sentences ranging from five years without benefits to 541 days in prison as accomplices to 27 counts of child abuse committed by Schaefer, their erstwhile leader who is still on the run (ST, Nov. 18).

Hernan González, the specially appointed judge who has been investigating the case for seven years, also ordered the colonists to pay 520 million pesos’ (US$885,000) compensation to the families of 11 of their victims.

Among those sentenced was Dr. Harmut Hopp, the colony’s second-in-command.

Chilean authorities have been criticized for not acting quickly enough to prevent Schaefer’s escape and for setting derisory bail for other colonists, a number of whom fled before they could be tried (ST, March 30).

The families will hold a press conference next week, hoping to raise further the profile of their campaign.

By Tom Burgis (

Boris Weisfeiler:
The U.S. State Department’s human rights Web site:
Read the open letter to President Lagos:

In the Santiago Times next week, read an exclusive interview with Olga Weisfeiler.