Victims of a Christian sect led by an ex-Nazi seek justice
When ex-Nazi paedophile Paul Schäfer, above, fled from Germany in 1959 after being charged with child abuse, the lay preacher established ‘one of the worst sects in the history of humanity – a stupid, fanatical Christianity.’
That’s the description of Colonia Dignidad provided by Winfried Hempel, who escaped the abusive sect 18 years ago.
According to this report, Hempel, now a lawyer, is heading a lawsuit against the German and Chilean states for the suffering he and other youngsters endured in the Colonia Dignidad commune.
Hempel, 38, alleges that both countries allowed the abuse to happen at the ironically named “Dignity Camp”, originally set up to deliver Christian charity to the local communities
Before his death at the age of 88 in a Chilean prison in 2010, Schäfer collaborated with the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, whose secret police used the colony as a place to torture opponents.
Hempel is bringing a joint lawsuit on behalf of 120 former residents of the colony who blame the Chilean state for allowing it to operate for years, during which time they say numerous victims were abused and enslaved.
In one case he is seeking $1.0 million from the Chilean state in compensation for each victim.
He is bringing a parallel case against Germany which he accuses of negligently failing to help its nationals who were abused in the colony.
Today the remote site, some 350 kilometers (215 miles) south of the capital Santiago, operates as a tourist attraction as Villa Baviera. This has angered victims, who want it to be preserved as a memorial to abuse victims.
I can smell the suffering of people in the place.
He remembers Schäfer, who dressed in black and imposed strict rules and punishments.
Schäfer founded the village supposedly as an idyllic charitable farming community. But later investigations revealed that residents were indoctrinated, abused and kept as slaves for three decades.
From birth, children were raised with almost no contact with their parents, which made them easy prey for Schäfer, Hempel said.
Hempel himself did not know his own surname nor the identity of his mother and father until he was 10.
There was a God called Schäfer. We were born as if in a laboratory. There was absolutely no chance of becoming aware of who you were.
In 1997, seven years after the end of the Pinochet regime and the return of democracy, Schäfer faced a series of lawsuits. He fled and was arrested in Argentina in 2005. He was convicted in Chile for sexual abuse of children, arms possession and human rights violations.
He died while serving a 20-year sentence.
But locals avoid condemning Schäfer. One inhabitant said that God must be his judge. The man, who described himself as a “second-generation colonist” said:
He did good things too. There is earthly justice, which has been done. And in the end there is divine justice.
But the victims are outraged that the colony is moving on as though nothing had happened. Gabriel Rodriguez, who lives in a nearby village, was held in Colonia Dignidad for a week as a prisoner of the Pinochet regime.
Promoting tourism in a place whose memory is one of death, torture, slavery and mutilation seems to me an aberration. It is an insult to the memory of those who suffered and died there.
A few months after the 21-room Hotel Baviera was built in 2012, the families of Pinochet’s victims posted pictures of disappeared relatives near the colony’s gate.
They also wrote a collective letter to President Sebastián Piñera, urging action:
How is it possible that the authorities in this country can treat the subject of tourism in the colony with so much moral turpitude?
Why doesn’t the German government propose a McDonald’s at Auschwitz or Treblinka and make a concerted effort to help torturers and not their victims? Or are Chileans worth less than Poles, Russians, Jews, etc?
February sees the release of Colonia, a film about the dictatorship and the colony, starring Emma Watson and Daniel Bruhl.