Nazi fugitive who ran secret German colony is arrested

Click to follow

A former Nazi medic has been arrested in Argentina, after 40 years on the run from multiple child abuse charges in Germany and Chile.

Paul Schaefer, 83, known as "the doctor" for his service as a nurse in the Waffen SS, who is also suspected of aiding in the torture of leftists under the Pinochet regime, was finally captured near Buenos Aires on Thursday.

He is expected to be extradited to neighbouring Chile, where he was convicted in absentia last November of sexually abusing 26 children. His capture is a major coup for Argentinian and Chilean police and secret services, who worked together to track him.

Schaefer was also head of a secretive German "colony'', the Colonia Dignidad, from 1961 until his disappearance nine years ago. Run as his personal fiefdom, the 70 square miles of agricultural land was worked by Germans who lived behind barbed wire, doing 100-hour weeks and apparently afraid to flee.

The few workers who did escape have described him as a mixture of Jim Jones, the leader of the People's Temple cult in Jonestown, Guyana, where 913 people died in a mass suicide in 1978; and David Koresh, who died along with 73 other Branch Davidians in the fire and massacre at Waco, Texas, in 1993.

Schaefer remained in Germany after the Second World War, became a Protestant preacher and, in 1961, was charged with sexually abusing children at a Lutheran orphanage he was running near Bonn. While on bail, he fled to Chile with some of the orphans, Lutheran supporters and Nazi sympathisers, bought the land more than 200 miles south of Santiago and began developing the colony, casting himself as "supreme leader".

At its height, during the military regime of his friend General Augusto Pinochet, it was a state within a state. Pinochet waived taxes and the 300 German workers produced wheat and corn, and exported timber, bratwurst, German pastries and other items via two private airstrips. They built internal railways and tunnels to shift timber. The land and business were said to be worth several billion dollars.

Allowing local farmers and their children to use the compound's 65-bed hospital and its school free, and offering favourable trading terms, gave Schaefer a strong buffer of local support and protection against detractors, curious media visitors and even the Chilean police.

When persistent journalists did reach the remote colony they were routinely intimidated by Chilean farmers and kept at a distance by Schaefer's German guards, who patrolled the perimeter fence with dogs and walkie-talkies.

The secrets of the miniature empire began to emerge after Pinochet fell. Some of Schaefer's victims and former agents spoke out and a few of the workers escaped. They said all babies had been taken from parents at the age of two and handed to Schaefer and his staff. Children had to call him "Our Eternal Uncle". Adults had to work 14 hours a day, seven days a week, without pay.

Then came the sex abuse allegations. "I was just 12 years old but I had to stay all night in his [Schaefer's] bed," said Wolfgang Müller, one of the first to escape. Other similar statements led to last November's conviction in absentia for the sexual abuse of 26 minors.

The allegations did not stop there. After the fall of Pinochet, victims of the regime said they had been imprisoned and tortured at the colony. Some spoke of "the German" or "the doctor who spoke German", who drugged them during interrogation. Pinochet agents confessed they had served in the colony and had seen torture in underground chambers while interrogators played loud music by Wagner or Mozart.

Relatives of the tens of thousands of the disappeared said they believed the colony may have been used to dump bodies during the Pinochet era. Some said their loved ones were last seen in the area near Parral, the town closest to the colony.