VILLA BAVIERA, Chile – When Luis Peebles was brought to Colonia Dignidad by the Chilean military in February 1975, before Augusto Pinochet’s coup that toppled President Salvador Allende, he knew it was a torture center like no other he had experienced so far.
Luis had been studying medicine and was the head of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left in the city of Concepcion, but he had been arrested a year before and ferried through different torture centers, although this was to be the worst yet.
For seven days, he was savagely tortured by Chilean army officers and by a man with a German accent who was particularly cruel.
That transplanted German was Paul Schäfer, the pedophilic leader of Colonia Dignidad, which he had set up and operated from 1961 to 2005 and where he subjected children, teenagers and adults – all of them members of his religious sect – to punishments and mental manipulation.
Peebles said he was tortured with electric shocks, with Schäfer directing the abuse when the soldiers were not “sufficiently” cruel.
About 350 opposition members were tortured in Colonia Dignidad, which Schäfer operated as his own personal oppressive fiefdom.
When Pinochet’s coup succeeded, the transplanted German offered his facilities to the military regime and Colonia Dignidad became a key element in the dictatorship’s repressive structure. They decided to make the colony into an intelligence, training, torture and extermination center and – although no exact figures exist – estimates are that half of the prisoners who were brought there were killed.
Most of the colonists living there, however, said they never imagined what the Pinochet regime was doing to opposition members there.
Some residents – many of whom had been recruited for the colony from Germany – were former Nazis and taught courses on torture, explosives and intelligence to secret police agents.
Schäfer, a former Nazi medic, had recruited faithful Baptists after World War Two and emigrated with them to southern Chile. In 2005, he was arrested in Argentina and convicted of sexual abuse and torture in Chile, where he died in prison five years later.