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  HOME | Chile

Colonia Dignidad, an Enclave Haunted by Atrocities of the Past

VILLA BAVIERA, Chile – A mantle of fog covers the road through a dense forest in southern Chile. It is winter and the cold numbs visitors to the bone. From among the trees emerges a gate, and beside it a sign reads “Welcome to Villa Baviera.”

Near the Andes and surrounded by a barbed-wire fence is this small community, originally named Colonia Dignidad. Until 10 years ago it was the enclave of one of the most sinister sects known to man.

Between 1961 and 2005 is was a hell controlled by the late Paul Schafer, a Nazi psychopath who acted in the name of a vengeful God and ruled some 300 people by means of punishment and manipulating their minds.

For those who were born and raised here, pedophilia, slavery and authoritarianism were the daily realities.

Living today in the old Colonia Dignidad are around 100 Germans. Memories of the atrocities they suffered continue to haunt every inch of the place.

The story of this horror has been taken to the big screen by German director Florian Gallenberger. “Colonia,” starring Emma Watson and Daniel Bruhl, has premiered in the United States and Europe, and next Aug. 4 will debut in Chile.

“The film does not reflect the reality. Life in Colonia Dignidad was much worse. Such suffering is very hard to portray,” Erika Tymm said.

Born in Germany in 1959, Tymm was 2 years old when her parents immigrated to Chile to join the “Christian paradise” where they wanted to start a new life after World War II.

She still lives there today. She is in charge of guiding tourists through the labyrinths of terror.

In a bunker of reinforced concrete by the light of a dusty light bulb, Erika Tymm recalls the first years of freedom, when she tried hard to find an explanation for so much pain.

With a lifeless gaze, she unravels her sad story. Some memories escape her. Electroshocks left lapses in her memory. Other secrets she learned in 2005, when the gates of the colony were finally opened.

It was then she discovered hundreds of microphones, hidden cameras and secret passages. As well as the rooms where those who opposed the 1973-1990 Pinochet dictatorship were tortured and executed.

Four years ago the residents converted a building into a restaurant and hotel. Schafer’s lamps and easy chairs give a chilling touch to the premises, to which visitors come to take part in folkloric German festivities.

Tourists are charmed by the bucolic surroundings and the delicious cuisine of Villa Baviera, but the victims’ families consider it an offense “to dance on the dead.”

“It’s a lack of respect for those who still miss their dear ones. Villa Baviera should become a place to commemorate the victims,” said Margarita Romero, president of the Colonia Dignidad Memorial and Human Rights Association.

Luis Peebles was viciously tortured there in 1975. Today he says that opening a tourist center here has been like “throwing dust on what happened.” Peebles would like a memorial raised that recalls those days of repression.

But for the residents, tourism, besides being a means of earning a living, is also their way of getting to know the outside world, because many have never left these premises in all their lives.


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