Families of political prisoners that lost their lives at Colonia Dignidad demand the closure of the facility in respect of the victims’ dignity. Led by German immigrants, Colonia Dignidad was an infamous torture center during the Pinochet dictatorship. Rebranded in 2005, it now functions as a tourist site that sells Bavarian clichés.
Victims’ organizations from Talca, Parral, Santiago, Concepción, Chillán, Valparaíso, Valdivia and Osorno, along with NGO Codepu and the Casa Memoria José Domingo Cañas foundation are demanding the Chilean and German governments shut down the Villa Baviera tourist site and turn it into a memorial.
Villa Baviera is the predecessor of Colonia Dignidad, which was a concentration camp and sect run by German immigrants and religious fundamentalists in southern Chile. Members had to obey Paul Schäfer, a pedophile who was well-connected to the dictatorship. In underground cells at the camp, political prisoners were tortured and killed.
The organizations received information only on Thursday that in 2019 already some experts presented proposals to Germany and Chile about how to turn Villa Baviera into a memorial site and commemorate the victims, Radio Cooperativa reported on Saturday.
A memorandum has existed reportedly since 2017 that outlines the possible commemorative presence of the victims at the site, but both governments categorically rejected integrating them.
“The records and decisions made by the [Colonia Dignidad] commission are secret, we don’t know the contents of the meetings, or the protocols followed to make decisions around our dear missing family members,” according to a joint statement by the organizations. “The proposal lines up with our repeated requests, at different opportunities, about representing the victims’ memories in an honorable way there.”
Details about the proposal were not released.
Colonia Dignidad was founded in 1961 by Paul Schäfer, an avowed Nazi who found refuge in Linares, El Maule region. From the beginning, Schäfer subjected the community to forced labor, and psychological and sexual abuse. He became most influential during the dictatorship when he allowed the secret police (DINA) to run a torture center at the site.
In 2016, Germany’s then-foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who’s now the country’s president, admitted that the embassy knew about the violence at the site but ignored it.
Although Schäfer was convicted after the dictatorship, he fled the country in 1997 and was detained only in 2005, in Argentina. He was extradited and incarcerated in Chile, where he died in 2010. His right-hand man, Hartmut Hopp, fled to Germany and lives free of legal troubles. The German public prosecutor dropped a probe into his role at Colonia Dignidad in 2019.
Colonia Dignidad was renamed Villa Baviera after Schäfer’s extradition and became a tourist destination, with restaurants and hotels that sell foreign imaginations of Bavarian life.
The victims organizations said “parties with alcohol and the current tourist industry operating at Villa Baviera are not respectful of our dear family members and all those who suffered political imprisonment and torture. A commemorative plaque is not enough.”
Javiera is from Santiago de Chile, she is studying journalism at Universidad de Chile, since 2017 and doing her internship at Chile Today.