WARNING - DISTURBING CONTENT: Colonia Dignidad, a group comprised of imprisoned, devout Germans in a compound in central Chile, isn’t one of the better known cults.
A mention of its name won’t strike the same familiarity as Jonestown, the Moonies, or the Manson Family.
Even though a feature film starring Emma Watson – Colonia - has been made about it, it’s remarkable how few people know about it.
This little-known group is the subject of the sixth episode of Yahoo News Australia's Cults Unpacked series.
For my money, the leader of Colonia Dignidad, Paul Schafer, is one of the worst humans to have ever lived, because it’s so rare that you get to describe anyone as a one-eyed Nazi pedophile Santa-murdering torture-loving cult leader.
Let’s start with the Santa-murdering thing, just to kind of ease ourselves into this cluster-horror gently.
Like most cult leaders, Paul Schafer didn’t like any of his followers thinking anyone but him was number one.
That’s why cult leaders like breaking up families, limiting the amount of information followers have access to, and casting everyone outside the cult as bad guys – it’s important that followers aren’t distracted from their main purpose: worshipping their leader.
There’s a story that in Colonia Dignidad one December, when the cult’s children started to get excited about the imminent arrival of Santa Claus, Schafer asked one of his followers to dress up as Santa and visit the gathered kinder.
Schafer then drew a pistol and – with the children not knowing that it was a set-up and faked – shot Santa, who collapsed into the river and sunk below the surface. As far as the children knew, this bastard murdered Santa.
Nazi cult flees to South America
The German cult came to be in Chile because for a long while after World War II, a load of Nazis and Nazi sympathisers fled to South America to avoid persecution, because Nazis are cowards.
Nazi Paul Schafer, apparently a gifted preacher, brought a congregation of followers to Chile with him from Germany and very quickly threw some Chilean nuns off their land, setting up a camp that his followers could only leave if they could get past the barbed wire, armed guards, and attack dogs he’d arranged.
On the plus side, the imprisoned community was incredible at growing things and producing cheese, bread, and sausages, which were useful for both generating income and greasing government officials.
The cult also presented the surrounding Chileans with an opportunity to have their children educated in its school and treated in its hospital.
On the down side, though, was absolutely everything else.
Cult members were forced to work in absolute silence
Cult members worked on the land and in the cult’s various cottage industries in complete silence, with members of the opposite sex forbidden from interacting.
Children were separated from their parents and raised in gender-separate dormitories by stern “aunties” and “uncles”, and the work in the compound was heavy toil from dawn to dusk.
Paul Schafer was NOT a fan of the 40-hour week, and contact between his followers and the outside world in any form – radio, newspapers, even calendars – was verboten.
If any of the multiple, strict rules were broken, beatings were handed out freely by an all-male council of those closest to Schafer.
Schafer was a violent totalitarian, so when fellow violent totalitarian Auguste Pinochet came to power in Chile in 1973, they inevitably became buddies.
Pinochet could help Schafer by allowing his violent prison camp to remain unbothered by outside authorities, even going so far as to prevent any of the compound’s escapees from leaving the country.
And Schafer could help Pinochet by teaching the president’s men how to torture people.
Torture widespread in sadistic cult
See, Colonia Dignidad wasn’t just a farm-based cult compound, it had secret rooms everywhere, including underground.
And having been a Nazi and a sadist for a good chunk of his life, Schafer was absolutely spectacular at torturing people.
He would both teach Pinochet’s men effective torture techniques to take away and inflict them on Pinochet’s many dissenters, and offer a nice, private underground bunker environment for a spot of in-house torturing.
His favourite methods were electrocution – strapping victims to metal bed frames and attaching electrodes to their underpants region – and training dogs to attack genitals.
Both Pinochet and Schafer used each other’s skills and influence to keep their separate communities obedient, and nobody’s testicles were safe.
Cult leader's disturbing child molestation secret
If underground torture chambers run by a Nazi weren’t bad enough, Schafer had other secrets at Colonia Dignidad that were arguably worse.
See, Schafer didn’t just leave Germany to avoid persecution for being a Nazi.
He also left because he was being investigated by German authorities for child molestation – particularly upsetting because he was running an orphanage at the time.
His abuse of children did not stop when he settled in Chile, and there were reports of Schafer enlisting his closest lieutenants to have boys delivered to his room.
The colony’s practice of allowing local children to be educated and treated in its school and hospital becomes a more sickening concept as a result. Pedophilia disguised as charity. Ugh.
Schafer insisted on being called ‘Der Permanente Onkel’ – ‘The Permanent Uncle’ in English – and after his crimes were known, ‘Uncle Paul’ became a nickname given to pedophiles in Chile.
The only good news of any kind to come out of Colonia Dignidad is that Paul Schafer was eventually stopped.
Pinochet was overthrown in 1990, and a warrant for Schafer’s arrest was issued in 1996 for multiple counts of child sex abuse.
The coward hid from arrest and from his own trial, and was finally found in Buenos Aires in 2005. He died five years into his twenty-year sentence, hopefully in pain.
Colonia Dignidad is now called "Villa Baviera", a greatly watered down German-themed tourist destination with German music, a restaurant, a petting zoo and a souvenir shop.
Tourists eating pork knuckle in the restaurant might be distracted by the deep excavation pits visible on the nearby hillside, where Chilean officials went digging to look for the bodies of political prisoners.
I reckon get your schweinshaxe somewhere else, hey.
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