Schaefer and the Chilean Authorities

Schaefer and his deputies , many of whom had served in the Waffen-SS and Gestapo during World War II, set up an elaborate security system: a network of tunnels and bunkers, watchtowers, guard stations, vicious watchdogs, and military training for the Colonia ’s men, each of whom carried a sidearm. Colonia Dignidad also had its own airport and airplanes, internal telephone system, power plant, brick factory, and a chemical-weapons laboratory. [1]

The public knew little about the Colonia , which became quite prosperous through sales of bread, vegetables, and cheese in the community. Interest was piqued in the late 1960s, when details began to trickle out of the closed compound (one resident escaped in 1966 on his third attempt). But Schaefer had protection beyond his security system. He cultivated relationships with the authorities, showered them with gifts and sponsored charitable projects. Media were rarely allowed into Colonia Dignidad . When they were, journalists were treated to a highly choreographed image of wholesomeness.

Schaefer’s most powerful protector was his good friend, Augusto Pinochet, who seized power in Chile on September 11, 1973, and set up an authoritarian military dictatorship. Pinochet’s regime rounded up thousands of Chileans on suspicion of opposition; many were tortured and killed. Colonia Dignidad was one place Pinochet could count on for cooperation. [2]


By the late 1980s, Schaefer had freely abused minors within the Colonia for over 20 years. Under the guise of a charitable program for local youth, he even extended his reach into the surrounding community.


Schaefer’s flight . But when Pinochet in 1990 was replaced by a democratic government, Schaefer’s protection network suffered a major blow. Pinochet’s successor, Patricio Aylwin, in 1992 revoked the Colonia ’s status as a non-profit after Schaefer was charged with tax evasion. Then in 1997, two young colonists escaped. They claimed Schaefer had abused them, as well as children as young as eight. [3] In May 1997, Judge Hernán Gonzalez issued an arrest warrant for Schaefer as well as 10 deputies in relation to some 40 investigations. [4] Chilean and Interpol police went to the Colonia to arrest him, but Schaefer had vanished.


Schaefer was gone, but his hold on the Chilean imagination only grew with the years. What, Chileans wondered, had really gone on inside Colonia Dignidad ? How had Schaefer kept hundreds of people enslaved? Was it true that Nazi fugitives like Joseph Mengele had hidden and undergone plastic surgery at Colonia Dignidad ? How had such voracious pedophilia gone unpunished for decades? Who had helped him escape? Where was he now?

[1] Charles A. Krause, “Colonia Dignidad: Nobody Comes Goes. Mystery Veils Colony in Chile,” Washington Post , February 11, 1980.

[2] “57 th lawsuit filed against Pinochet in Chile,” Agence France Presse , January 18, 2000; Larry Rohter, “Chilean Mystery: Clues to Vanished American,” New York Times, May 19, 2002. In 1977, Amnesty International released a report alleging that Colonia Dignidad was a base of operations for DINA, the Chilean secret police. (Schaefer was also close friends with General Miguel Contreras, who ran DINA.) Schaefer sued Amnesty International for libel and blocked a West German investigative delegation from entering the colony. Gustavo Gonzalez, “Chile-Politics: Net tightens on shady settlement,” IPS-Inter Press Service , April 11, 1997.

[3] “Two youths in Frankfurt after escaping Colonia Dignidad,” Agence France Presse , August 2, 1997.

[4] “Chilean judge orders arrest of leaders of former Nazi enclave,” Agence France Presse , May 10, 1997.