When the news trickled in from Argentina and then Chile that a fugitive from justice, Paul Schaeffer (no, not the Letterman guy) was finally apprehended and extradited from the land of Peron to the land of Pinochet, I was quite frankly relieved.
And then the revelations about a horde of documents and weapons, and my relief turned to anxiety.
I visited Paul Schaeffer in June, 1979. It was a cool winter’s day in Chile, and I was wearing a tan trench coat so that I would be a very recognizable figure should anything go wrong. I was not an invited guest, or an expected one, that Sunday morning. I had read about Schaeffer’s notorious German estate in the Andes Mountains in a much-maligned book by Ladislas Farago, Aftermath. Farago’s focus was on the ratlines that enabled Nazi war criminals to escape European justice by providing transport, false documents, and visas to countries in South America, the Middle East, and Asia. Some of the more famous alumni of the ratlines include Dr Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death at Auschwitz, who wound up in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil; Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyons, who wound up running the secret police in Bolivia; and Alois Brunner, a sadistic Nazi mass murderer who is believed to be living in Syria today.
Almost as an aside, Farago mentioned the bizarre German outpost and safe house close to the town of Parral, in Chile. Run by an ex-Luftwaffe medic, Paul Schaeffer — an accused pedophile and Baptist minister on the run from the German courts — it covered thousands of acres in the Andes near the border of Chile and Argentina. It was populated almost entirely by German nationals, and ran a clinic that was free to the local townspeople two days a week when I was there. (A free German clinic, run by a former Luftwaffe medic? Is it safe?)
According to Farago, the “Colony of Righteousness” or Colonia Dignidad was a weird combination of voodoo and fascism in the middle of the Andean forests. There was something forbidding about the place, and as I searched further for information on the estate, I was informed that it did exist, was run by German doctors, and that it staunchly supported the Pinochet regime. Indeed, it was claimed that Schaeffer and Pinochet were friends, and that Colonia Dignidad was a favorite hangout of Nazi-loving Chilean military officers and members of DINA, the secret police.
I was 28 years old that year, and I could not pass this up. Nazis, voodoo, secret police. I was working on a book that would eventually become Unholy Alliance and which would attract the attention of writers and journalists such as Norman Mailer, Jim Hougan, Dick Russell, Jim Marrs, and Whitley Strieber. (Norman Mailer would eventually write the foreword to the second edition, published by Continuum in 2002.) It was a study of twentieth century Germany’s fascination with the occult, and how this fascination fueled the formation of the Nazi Party and especially of Himmler’s SS. Based on primary sources located at the National Archives, the Berlin Documentation Center, and the Library of Congress’ Rehse Collection, Unholy Alliance attempted to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that occult ideas and concepts were central to the Nazi weltanschauung and to lift the discussion out of the realm of speculation and mystification.
So, I girded my loins and made the flight down to Santiago, catching a bus for the town of Parral about 250 miles to the south of Chile’s capital.
That story is told in detail in Unholy Alliance, but suffice it to say that my stay at the Colony was brief, albeit unpleasant. I was detained there for several hours, my passport was taken, the film was removed from my camera, and I was interrogated. I was allowed to leave (for reasons I did not know at the time, but which became clear a few days later) and was virtually escorted out of the country. The Colony had radio contact with the military, and I had soldiers ensuring that I was indeed on the bus back to Santiago and on the next plane to the United States.
The rest of the story forms the backbone of Unholy Alliance. I tried, without success, to interest members of the mainstream media in the Colony and in my experiences at the hands of the blue-coated doctor who did most of the interrogating on behalf of Schaeffer, who did not speak English. Major magazines and newspapers were simply not interested, didn’t believe my story, or didn’t think that Colonia Dignidad was anything more than a bunch of unpleasant Germans living in seclusion.
Then Boris Weisfeiler disappeared.
That was in 1982, three years after my visit. The Russian-born American academic had been hiking in the Andes near the Colony. Picked up by a Chilean military patrol, he was taken to the Colony and left there. He has never been seen or heard from again.
There was still no interest in this tale by anyone in the States. After all, there was a great deal of resistance on the part of the Nixon White House to deal with the disappearance in Chile of Charles Horman, the young artist whose story was memorialized in the Costa-Gavras film, Missing. Horman had been arrested by the Chilean security forces during the Pinochet coup, and was murdered at the National Stadium. Witnesses to the event said that an American official was present at the time. The American relationship to Chile has always been a trifle problematic. Nixon made it our business to do what we could to unseat a democratically elected president, the socialist Salvador Allende, and to replace him by a more definite anti-Communist strongman, General Augusto Pinochet.
As more and more news came out of Chile, it became clear that Colonia Dignidad had a special role in the military coup and in the subsequent interrogation, torture and murder of political prisoners. As it was honeycombed with underground tunnels and chambers, people could and did disappear within the Colony at an alarming rate. This would eventually include the Colony’s founder, Paul Schaeffer himself, who used the tunnels to flee justice during a raid on the estate ordered by the newly elected president of Chile after Pinochet’s demise, Patricio Alwyn.
Then, a few months ago came the capture and extradition of Schaeffer to Chile, where he will stand trial for human rights abuse and child abuse. During an excavation at the Colony a few weeks ago, a hoard of guns and ammunition, some dating from the Second World War, was discovered and revealed to the world’s press. Along with that came the discovery of hundreds of documents, many of them dossiers on people the Colony considered suspect. I have contacted the Chilean Consulate to discover if, by any chance, one of those dossiers is mine. (In 1979, when I was held there by a lot of strong Germans with side arms, my passport was confiscated. It was returned to me perhaps 20-30 minutes later. I had the distinct impression it had been photocopied.)
When I returned to the States a few days later, Jack Anderson ran a column on Colonia Dignidad, reporting its use as an interrogation center by DINA and the fact that a CIA report existed on the place. This was news to me at the time, and anyway I was suddenly afraid for my life. I had nothing to do with the story, but would the men of the Colony know that?
A few days after the column appeared, I was accosted by four large Germans in a taxi in Brooklyn who screamed epithets at me, using various anti-Semitic slurs, threatening me bodily harm. A few days after that, a strange man in a white suit and a red carnation in his lapel stopped me on a street in Astoria, Queens, and told me, “Don’t worry. You’re among friends here.” I am not making this up.
Now, documents have been found and I can’t help but wonder if one of them holds a piece of my story. More importantly, do these documents help survivors understand what has happened to their loved ones, los desaperecidos, people who disappeared during the Pinochet regime? Will they hold answers as to the fate of Boris Weisfeiler?
And will anyone care? Stories about the Colony do not make the nightly news (in spite of its tabloid appeal along the lines of “mysterious religious cult abuses children, Nazi medics torture, murder dissidents in remote South American outpost.”) Reports barely make it into the Spanish-language media, which I monitor regularly. No one seems to want to know. Approaches to the mainstream media have, again, resulted in a deafening silence.
And men like Pinochet, Schaeffer, Mengele, Brunner and all the others eventually die peacefully in their beds as the bodies of the people they murdered lie buried in unmarked graves.
News at eleven? Not a chance.
Edited: LIPowered by Sidelines