Weird History
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Inside The Secret South American Torture Cult Started By An Ex-Nazi

Updated February 26, 2019 95.8k views13 items

The story of Colonia Dignidad is one of pain, brainwashing, and the horrific wielding of power. The name "Colonia Dignidad" means "Colony of Dignity" in Spanish, which is certainly ironic considering the events that took place there. Colonia Dignidad was a cult in Chile, located south of Santiago. It was led by a former SS Colonel named Paul Schäfer, a known offender who targeted children and ran the commune on the labor of orphans.

The compound was also used regularly by the Chilean secret police to conduct sessions of systematic harm and to terminate political dissenters. The true story of Colonia Dignidad was turned into a 2015 feature film called Colonia, starring Emma Watson. Colonia Dignidad survivors have verified that it captures the spirit of the pain and suffering that occurred within the cult's walls.

  • Former SS Colonel Paul Schäfer Survived The Post-Hitler Years By Working As A Preacher And Running An Orphanage

    Photo: Emnahammas / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    Paul Schäfer tried to hide his past as a SS Colonel after WWII ended. He traveled around the countryside working as a minister, playing the part of a pious and trustworthy German citizen. His new career was ideal for staying under the government's radar. 

    At that time, Third Reich members who had conducted actions that violated the international terms of conflict were being hunted down. 

  • He Was Charged With Assailing Two Boys In 1961, So He Packed Up His Followers And Fled To Chile

    In 1961, Schäfer already had a reasonably strong cult following when he was accused of having relations with children in Germany. His solution to that problem was to flee to Chile, joining thousands of other former SS officials in the migration to South America. He managed to arrange for many of his followers, as well as the orphans he had been caring for, to come along. They began a new community in a new country, but with the same strongly anti-Semitic values. 

    Schäfer was considered to be a very charismatic leader, in spite of the fact that he had a glass eye as a result of a childhood accident (involving trying to untie his shoes with a fork). Supposedly, that just added to his charm.

  • He Received Help From The Underground Network Of SS Sympathizers In South America

    Photo: Grüninger / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    In the years following WWII, as many as 9,000 SS war criminals fled to the safe haven of South America. The President of Argentina even established escape routes for German officers known as "ratlines," by which thousands of Germany's former nationalist party members were smuggled out of Europe.

    Included among them was Josef Mengele and, of course, the wanted child offender Paul Schäfer.

  • He Took Over The German Compound Of Colonia Dignidad And Fortified It With Barbed Wire And German Shepherd Dogs

    What was once a harmless community of German immigrants soon became something horrifying in the case of Colonia Dignidad. Schäfer quickly took over the compound located some 200 miles south of the Chilean capital of Santiago and completely changed the narrative. He became almost a god-like figure to his followers, and he started to control how they went about their daily lives.

    He heavily fortified the compound, stripping the members of their freedom. He even decided who was to be raised by whom, taking babies away from their mothers to be raised communally.