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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.

  • The Dictator Of Chile, General Augusto Pinochet, Supported Schäfer's Efforts

    Photo: Warko / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    General Augusto Pinochet coming into power in 1973 was extremely beneficial for Colonia Dignidad. The new dictator had a good relationship with the cult, and he even used their facilities for the detention and systematic harm of political dissenters. Pinochet's secret police, DINA, were regulars at the compound.

    Pinochet fell from power in the 1990s, and he passed in 2006 - before ever having to face a trial for his human rights violations.

  • Chilean Political Dissidents Were Brutalized Within The Walls Of Colonia Dignidad

    Photo: Zazil-Ha Troncoso 2 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    The total number of people terminated inside Colonia Dignidad is unknown, but the discovery of mass graves on the property indicates that there were many. Most of the dispatched people are thought to have been political dissidents since investigators found buried cars with license plates matching the cars of people who had been reported missing. 

    Survivors reported being physically harmed, often with electric shocks, as punishment. They described an underground dungeon, and the ones who never made it out came to be known as los desaparecidos, the disappeared ones.  

  • The Compound Was Basically A Forced Labor Camp Powered By Orphans

    Schäfer didn't let the charges by the German government stop him from bringing some of the orphans in his care across the Atlantic to Chile with him. More were adopted from poor Chilean families as well, and everyone was put to work. An interview with a former cult member, Heinz Kunz, revealed just how intense Schäfer's work day was.

    Kunz relates: "I can't begin to tell you how hard he made me work [...] 12 hours straight with nothing but bread or tea."

  • Local Farmers Actually Benefited From The Presence Of The Colony

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

    There were numerous state-of-the-art facilities within Colonia Dignidad, including a school and a hospital. The local farmers were granted use of the facilities and also benefited from trade with the colony, which led to a sense of loyalty. According to journalist Phil Davison, when he came to Colonia Dignidad to try to get an interview with Schäfer in the '90s he was met by more than just intimidating guards and their dogs.

    The local farmers also showed up to make him feel threatened, brandishing machetes at him.