Excavations at Chile torture site offer new hope for relatives of disappeared
Chile Excavations at Chile torture site offer new hope for relatives of disappeared
Colonia Dignidad was a secretive enclave run by an ex-Nazi paedophile where victims of the Pinochet regime were tortured, killed and buried
The road to Villa Baviera winds 380km south from Chileâs capital, Santiago, through forests and fields of newly harvested hay, to the foothills of the Andes.
At the resortâs hotel, tourists sip German beer and enjoy the scenery, but the tranquil setting belies a horrific past: until 1991, the sprawling compound was known as Colonia Dignidad, and was home to a religious sect led by a convicted paedophile and former Nazi.US considered offering asylum to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet Read more
During the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, the enclave was also used as a clandestine torture site where about 300 people were interrogated and tortured by the Dina (National Intelligence Directorate) secret police. Between 1973 and 1978, at least 100 people are believed to have been murdered at the site and their bodies d estroyed.
Now a new hunt is under way to find a grave believed to contain the remains of some of those who were âdisappearedâ at Colonia Dignidad. Relatives still fighting for answers hope that fresh excavations may reveal forensic science evidence â" and grant them a degree of closure.
âFinding this grave is the last hope for the families of the disappeared. The search must continue for as long as it takes to find it,â said Winfried Hempel, a lawyer representing the victims of human rights abuses perpetrated at the enclave.
Colonia Dignidad was founded in 1961 by Paul SchÃ¤fer, a former medic in the Nazi-era German army who fled Germany in 1959 after being charged with child abuse.
Surrounded by watchtowers and electrified fences and patrolled by armed men and guard dogs, the community was populated by about 300 Germans, and cut off from the rest of Chile.
SchÃ¤fer â" who died in a prison hospital in 2010 â" was a ccused of running a cult-like community where he systematically abused young children. According to prosecutors, he also allowed Pinochetâs agents to torture political prisoners in a maze of stonewalled tunnels beneath the enclave.
In 1978, the Dina chief, Manuel Contreras â" hoping to destroy evidence of human rights abuses â" ordered the exhumation and disposal of all the executed prisonersâ remains.
According to Chileâs national commission for truth and reconciliation, 40 corpses may have been dug up at Colonia Dignidad, before being chemically burned and their ashes tossed into the river PerquilauquÃ©n, which runs to the south of the 37,000-acre compound.
But recently, a former member of the colony â" who at the time was in charge of the heavy machinery used to exhume the bodies â" testified that one grave had been left intact.Latin Americaâs Schindler: a forgotten hero of the 20th century | Ewen MacAskill Read more
The victims of Colonia Dignidad were not all Chileans: in 1985, Boris Weisfeiler, a nationalised US citizen born in the Soviet Union, vanished while trekking a few miles from the enclave. According to witnesses, local police detained and beat him before taking him to the colony where he disappeared.
â After 33 years of agonising search to find my brother, I still hold hope that they find his remains,â said Borisâs sister, Olga Weisfeiler, who lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
Eight retired police and military officers were eventually indicted over Weisfeilerâs abduction in 2012, but four years later, a judge applied the statute of limitations and closed the case.
âI have given up on getting answers from the Chilean government as to what happened to him,â she said. âAt present, it seems both the Chilean government and its judicial system are complicit in stalling the judicial process and in avoiding taking responsibility for my brotherâs tragic death.â
In October, the search for the truth of Villa Baviera gained new impetus when Judge Mario Carroza ordered a new search of the site, but the recent election of billionaire businessman SebastiÃ¡n PiÃ±era as president has raised fears that there is little political appetite for a full reckoning.
After more than a decade on the run, SchÃ¤fer was arrested in 2005 and sentenced to 20 years in jail for sexually abusing and torturing children at the colony.
Today, Villa Baviera is run by Anna Schnellenkamp, daughter of one of Paul SchÃ¤ferâs right-hand men, Kurt Schnellenkamp, who died in 2017 after serving a five-year prison sentence for enabling SchÃ¤ferâs abuse.
The colony survives on income from a poultry farm, which produces 30,000 eggs a day, and tourism: there is a manmade-lake with pedal boats, a restaurant serving venison, sauerkraut and other German dishes, and a small museum that makes no mention of the disappeared.
Relatives of the disappeared say that the site of mass murder should not be a leisure centre; they have called for Villa Baviera to be closed and replaced with a memorial.
âIt is not possible that a place where serious violations of human right s such as torture, murders and disappearances should function as a tourist destination,â said Margarita Romero, president of the Association of Memory and Human Rights.
âImagine a hotel built in a concentration camp in Europe â" it would never be permitted.âTopics
- Augusto Pinochet
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