The Pinochet Affair: `I saw them herded to their death. I heard the gunfire as they died'

Adam Schesch, witness to Pinochet's worst atrocity, talking yesterday to `The Independent'

"THERE WERE two lines. We called them the line of life and the line of death. One line led out, away from the stadium, the other led inside," Adam Schesch, a veteran of the 1973 coup in Chile, recalls.

"The demeanour of people in the one line seemed relaxed. The people in the other line were heavily guarded. They seemed stunned, stolid-faced. We never saw those people again."

In September 1973, Mr Schesch was held prisoner for 10 days in the bowels of Santiago's national stadium as the madness and evil of a military coup played out in front of him.

No one knows how many ordinary citizens lost their lives after General Augusto Pinochet turned on his friend, President Salvador Allende, and ruthlessly seized power. But, in the 10 days he was held, Mr Schesch believes that between 400 and 600 people were executed by firing squads just yards from where he sat, hunched and terrified with his wife. Among the victims were fellow US citizens Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi.

"Just before they led the one line out into the stadium, they would start the extractor fans in the changing rooms just to make some noise," he said. "They did not want people to know what was happening. Then they would lead the line of people out of the changing rooms into the stadium."

Moments later, Mr Schesch would hear the unmistakable sound of machine- gun fire.

"There was a concrete wall between where I was being held and the stadium but I could hear everything, said Mr Schesch. "On one occasion my wife heard the people in the stadium singing `the Internationale'. Then the machine-guns started.

"The gunfire would last for 45 seconds, maybe a minute, and then there was no sound. Then someone would come back in and turn off the fans."

Twenty-five years later, Mr Schesch, 55, is remarried with a grown-up son and working as researcher for the State of Wisconsin. But the arrest in London last week of General Pinochet - the alleged architect of the massacre in the stadium - has stirred memories he will never forget.

He and his former wife, Patricia, had travelled to Chile in December 1970, arriving the day after President Allende was sworn in. They remember it as an exciting time.

The two graduates were rapidly swept up in the euphoric lifestyle of working for an avowedly left-wing democracy in a continent teeming with military dictators. They worked with a Catholic University in Santiago, mixed with the local activists and became heavily involved in Allende's government of Popular Unity.

"Once we got there we realised it was a historical moment. It was incredibly exciting. That first year was incredibly upbeat and promising," he said. "Then after 18 months things became incredibly grim."

He remembers the strikes, the boycotts, the struggle for control in the elections of March 1973 and the attempted coups. Then on the morning of 11 September, they received a phone-call. "It was a friend. He said there had been a coup and we should put on the radio immediately."

The news was stark and to the point. Allende had committed suicide as British-built Hawker jets bombed his palace, the military had seized power and foreigners were being denounced as killers. "There was nothing we could do but stay in our house and try and burn the pamphlets and papers we had. We only had a small kerosene fire and we had to burn everything on that in small bundles at a time. The fire burnt for three days."

Shortly afterwards, Mr Schesch and his wife were denounced by a neighbour and taken by police to the national stadium where the authorities were rounding people up and holding them. In the changing rooms underneath the main building they were splitting people into different categories. Some rooms contained intellectualsy, others members of the working class and native Indians.

Mr Schesch had no idea what would happen to him and his wife. They had tried to get rid of anything that could link them to the Allende government and stressed their status as American citizens. "We were totally unprepared. We did not know what to do. They basically just threw us down against a concrete wall where we were held for 10 days while they questioned us. If we wanted to go to the toilet they took us to a room containing about 75 people," said Mr Schesch.

"We saw people being beaten up and taken off for torture. At one point they brought in two teenagers who had been fighting against the anti-government forces and they beat them up in front of us."

It was during the first three days they were held captive that Mr Schesch and his wife became aware of the lines of people being formed up and then led out of the stadium - almost certainly to concentration camps - or else inside, to face the firing squad.

"They were taking people into the stadium about 20 at a time, several times a day. It was men and women. Mainly adults. Mainly working-class people. There were a lot of native Indians."

Mr Schesch was eventually released after friends put pressure on the American State Department to intervene. There had been reluctance, possibly because - as recently released documents show - the CIA acting under President Richard Nixon was deeply involved in promoting the coup.

After 10 days, he and his wife were handed over to someone from US Embassy. The following morning they were flown back to the States. They have never been back to Chile.

"The memories of that time are very vivid. Those things stay in your memory. I had dreams for several years afterwards and I suffer - even now - from a feeling of vulnerability," said Mr Schesch. "Chile was meant to be the Switzerland of South America. What we saw was the brutal destruction of democracy."

In 1991, when a number of graves of coup victims were dug up, it was revealed that many of the bodies had broken arms and legs, indicating torture.

It was also revealed that many victims were buried two-to-a coffin. "What a great saving," General Pinochet is reported to have said. "I congratulate the diggers."

Such comments add to Mr Schesch's conviction that Britain has a duty not to give in now to Chile's demands for the release of General Pinochet. He believes even at the age of 82 he should be handed over to the Spanish judges requesting his extradition and tried for war crimes.

"It was not genocide but `politicide' what he was doing. He was trying to wipe out the leadership of a whole generation of the working class," he said.

"I urge the people of Britain to stand firm and not be overwhelmed. It is for a generation of people and to the children of that generation."

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone