Nazi jailed for abuse of 25 children in Chilean colony

Phil Davison
Friday 26 May 2006 00:00

Paul Schaefer, an 84-year-old unrepentant Nazi who presided over a secretive German enclave behind barbed wire in Chile, has been jailed for 20 years for the abuse of 25 German and Chilean children. It was the end of nearly half a century of impunity for the man who fled similar charges in his native Germany in 1961.

Schaefer, a former corporal and medic in the Nazi SS and later a Lutheran pastor, faces further charges of torture, kidnap and murder by using his Colonia Dignidad, or Dignity Colony to help his Nazi-sympathiser friend, General Augusto Pinochet, get rid of opponents.

Schaefer was in detention in Santiago on Wednesday when a court in the town of Parral, 220 miles south of the capital but close to the "colony", also ordered him to pay around $1.4m (£0.7m) to those of his victims who could be found.

As a pastor after the Second World War, Schaefer ran an orphanage at Sieburg, near Bonn, when he was charged with abusing many of the children. He fled to Chile in 1961 with several dozen children and loyal followers. With financial support from the underground network of escaped Nazis in South America, he purchased 70 square miles of forest and farmland which reminded him of Bavaria.

Despite the barbed wire, the watchtowers, the dogs and the fact that few of its German residents were allowed to leave the compound, Schaefer, known as "the doctor", won support from local farmers who benefited from mutual trade and a state-of-the-art hospital near its gates.

It was only over the past decade that Germans who escaped and local Chilean children told of abuse by the man they were ordered to call "Our Eternal Uncle". Residents were forced to work from sunrise to sunset, every day, without pay.

The Germans who fled reported that children were taken from their parents as babies and kept in separate areas controlled by Schaefer, including the hospital, where Chilean children from the surrounding area were offered free treatment.

Wolfgang Mueller, now in his 50s, was one of the first to flee, at the age of 16, in the 1960s. He kept silent for years, out of fear of reprisals, but eventually told investigators: "I remember the first night I arrived. Mr Schaefer abused me. I was just 12 years old but I had to stay all night in his bed."

Schaefer also built two airstrips within his land, ostensibly to export timber, wheat, corn and German specialties such as pastries and bratwurst. After Pinochet came to power in a 1973 coup, his friendship meant he could run a virtual "state-within-a-state", importing and exporting freely and paying no taxes.

After Pinochet's downfall, Chileans began to reveal stories of their experiences in the colony. Repentant officers of Pinochet's National Intelligence Agency (Dina) said the airstrips had been used to ship arms to Schaefer and to bring dissidents for "interrogation".

Most were never seen again, but those who survived spoke of electric shock torture in underground dungeons from a German who turned up the volume of his Wagner music at the same time as he increased the electric current.

Schaefer fled in 1997 and surfaced in neighbouring Argentina. He was arrested outside Buenos Aires in March last year and extradited back to Chile.

Although around 300 people, mostly Germans, still work the land, now re-named Villa Baviera (Spanish for Bavaria), the Chilean state has taken control. Jorge Zepeda, the investigating judge, uncovered what was described as a "military-scale cache of weapons" including assault rifles and submachine-guns.

Survivors and former Chilean intelligence agents said dozens of political dissidents were tortured to death or murdered by Schaefer with shots to the back of neck, then buried in mass graves within the colony. A dig is currently under way, but Judge Zepeda is said to fear that Schaefer may have cremated the bodies when suspicions began to emerge.

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