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Colonia Dignidad, aka hell on earth in Chile

For decades, the settlement, run by a charismatic immigrant from Germany, was considered a harmless community of believers. In reality, it was a sect labor camp. And a place of torture.

South Chile, the 1970s. Close to the city of Catillo, about 340 kilometers from Santiago, lies the province of Linares, isolated from the rest of the world- more than 70 square miles of land, mostly agricultural, surrounded by picturesque hills. However, it only seems to be uninhabited. Carefully cut off from the various, closer or more distant, human clusters, it is connected with civilization by a long, narrow road leading to a massive gate. Nothing and no one will pass through it without the watchful gaze of the guards.

Everyone in the neighborhood knows who lives behind the gates of the Bavarian-style colony: in cream-colored houses with juicy-orange roofs, among colorful gardens, and fountains. They are German and French immigrants. Polite, decent, clean, and diligent. Like no one else they take care of the earth, and nature and do have their moral principles. They don’t disturb anyone, they don’t bother anyone. They do not come into conflict with local residents. They provide health care to hundreds of poor people. After all, they have their own, fully equipped hospital on the north side. They allow outsiders to use it for free. They also have a gravel pit, which you can use to build roads all over Chile. And a chapel, two schools, a common room, a bakery, and a dairy. They have lived behind a massive cast-iron gate for decades: some were born there, started their families, and died.

Happiness captured in a shot

And all this – as they argue – thanks to the great Paul Schäfer. Full of inexhaustible energy, evangelical preacher from Germany who spent most of his adult life in Chile. Tall, slim, and graying, he has a distinctive voice and a glass eye. Despite spending many years in Chile, he still doesn’t speak Spanish well. German is the language he values best and expects the same from those whom he welcomes to his colony. He rarely smiles, keeps his distance, and walks straightened up, proudly. Always in elegant clothes, often wearing a hat.

From the others, however, he expects the wearing of traditional work clothes from decades ago. But no one seems to mind. At least it is not seen in the 1981 recording shared by Schäfer himself. The film shows an idyllic life among picturesque landscapes, a land of milk and honey. Everyone is satisfied with the work they do. Even tame deer and little owls tearing around the buildings seem unrealistically happy. The video ends with a formal performance by an orchestra of young women. This is how the world has seen the colony for decades. Because Schäfer wanted the world to see his colony this way.

For the glory of all

To the inhabitants of the village, Schäfer is an uncle and a mentor, replacing their family and God himself. The only thing he officially requires of his “sheep” is to confess sins.

Click here to read the full article.

By Maria Radzik

Translated by sj


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