In A Nutshell
For decades, a Nazi pedophile named Paul Schaefer ran a cult-like commune in the backcountry of Chile. The community, called Colonia Dignidad, numbered approximately 300 at its height and was a hotbed of child molestation, drug abuse, and savage beatings. Beginning in the 1970s, the colony was also used by the Chilean secret police as a concentration camp for their prisoners.
The Whole Bushel
In the aftermath of World War II, many Nazi war criminals seeking refuge from justice made their way to South America. For the most part, they attempted to blend in as much as possible, aware they were being hunted by groups like the Israeli Mossad. One Nazi that was able to make the transition to civilian life was Paul Schaefer, who had been a corporal in the Wehrmacht. Schaefer opened up a children’s home in West Germany, but in 1959, he was forced to flee the country after if was discovered he was molesting his charges.
Schaefer ran to South America, where many of his Nazi compatriots had landed in the years previous, and in 1961, he set up a community in Chile called Colonia Dignidad (Dignity Colony) of approximately 300 Chileans and German expatriates. Schaefer held absolute sway over his colonists; his title was “The Permanent Uncle.” To inspire respect and fear among the children, he once staged a mock execution of Santa Claus. The meaning was clear: Schaefer alone was to be revered.
The colony was seen by locals as a group of eccentrics. The compound was fortress-like, with a watchtower, search lights, and barbed wire fences keeping its members in and prying eyes out. Massive weapons caches were maintained, including rocket launchers, grenades, and even a tank. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, at one point the colony even played host to the evil Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi “Angel of Death” known for performing horrifying medical experiments on Jewish captives during the war.
When dictator Augusto Pinochet took over the country in a military coup, he used the colony as a prison camp where enemies of the state could be beaten and tortured. It is believed that Russian Jewish mathematician Boris Weisfeiler may have been held and eventually executed at the camp; he vanished while hiking in the Chilean Andes in 1984. By 1997, the abuses at Colonia Dignidad had become so sinister that Paul Schaefer was forced to flee the country to escape child molestation charges. He was caught in Argentina in 2005 and was sentenced to 20 years behind bars one year later. He died in a prison hospital in 2010, at 88 years old.
Subsequent investigations have found mass graves, evidence of a horror whose true depth will probably never be known. Today, the community has been rebranded Villa Baviera (Bavaria Village) and is marketed as a delightful tourist destination. For obvious reasons, the legacy of rape, murder, and torment is downplayed lest it offend the delicate sensibilities of vacationers.