After German authorities issued an arrest warrant against him, relating to accusations of child abuses dating back to the 1950s, Paul Schaefer, a German army nurse during World War II, moved to Chile in 1961.
He arrived with a group of German families to establish a religious cult and farming commune called Colonia Dignidad, later renamed Villa Baviera, near thecity of Parral, more than 350 kilometers south of Santiago.
Under harsh discipline imposed by Schaefer, the community lived in complete isolation from the rest of the world.
Men and women, husbands and wives, were separated to such extremes as not to allow some to speak to each other for years.
Restrictions on normal sexual relations were so tough that for decades no children were born inColonia Dignidad. While they followed a fanatical brand of Christian faith prescribed by the leader, sect members worked hard in agricultural activities and in different small factories within the compound.
The efficiency and quality of their products and organization of the commune soon earned the admiration of other rural families in the area who started to take advantage of the health andeducation facilities of Colonia Dignidad.
The impression was positive enough to convince some poor peasant Chilean families to give up their children for adoption to their German neighbors.
In time, many of them would become sexual slaves of Mr. Schaefer, together with other German children under the custody of the man seen by many of his followers as a divine figure.
In March 1966, Ernest WolfangMuller, one the youngsters who had arrived with the first group of Germany, escaped from the community and made public the first accusations of sexual abuses against Mr. Schaefer.
A few days later, Wilhemine Linderman, also got away from the oppressive colony.
Another member of the group, Heinz Kuhn, managed to leave the place a year later, corroborating Mr. Muller’s charges against the leader.
Inspite of the serious accusations and with the help of Chilean lawyers, the hierarchy of the community faced no trial.
Not even during President Salvador Allende’s government was there a real change in activities at the colony.
From time to time, the mystery surrounding Colonia Dignidad was mentioned in the media and some left-wing politicians asked for an investigation of what was described as“an independent state within Chilean territory”. Others sided with the Germans.
Immediately after the military coup of 1973, the community established close ties with the military regime, and, according to the records of the Catholic Church and human rights groups, it provided secret police with a place to torture political prisoners.
With the restoration of democracy in 1990, the German sect wasdeprived of its religious privileges, but continued being a mysterious place, cut off from the outside world by barbed wire fences and a sophisticated system of electronic security devices, practically ignored by public officials.
Then in 1996, alongside charges of torture and disappearance of political prisoners presented by Chilean groups, some former residents in the area testified that many ofthe colony’s young children were systematically abused by Mr. Schaefer. And that adults were submitted to maltreatment, use of drugs, separated from families y and forced to work.
Some 250 to 280 members of the sect continue to live at Villa Baviera.
The future of the colony, with its dark past as a fanatical religious headquarters and torture centre will continue to be linked to the fate ofthe man who is now occupying one of the cells in the High Security Prison of the Chilean capital.
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