Colonia Dignidad cult victims seek escape from nightmare past

A little over two years ago former Nazi Paul Schaefer, who founded a secretive German cult in Southern Chile in the 1960s and was later convicted of sexually abusing children, died of heart failure in a prison hospital.

But today, ten years after Chilean police raided Colonia Dignidad’s properties, many of his victims are still seeking closure from the human rights abuses they experienced.

2006 Documentary about Colonia Dignidad, by Jose Mal­davsky

Reuters reports

Werner Schmidtke has a recurring nightmare: he is in a room full of boys strapped to metal beds, naked and blindfolded with wax plugs in their ears, being tortured by a man with an electric prod. Any boy who screams is plunged into a tub full of freezing water and given more electric shocks.

For Schmidtke, who is now 51, the scene is all too real. He was subjected to this treatment as a youngster in a building known as “Neukra” (short for “New Hospital” in German) in Colonia Dignidad, a secretive sect set up in central Chile in 1961 by Paul Schaefer, a German World War Two medic turned evangelical preacher.

To this day, Schmidtke does not know why he was among the boys singled out for the torture from among Schaefer’s 300 German followers, who endured decades of virtual slavery until Schaefer fled the Chilean police in 1997. Schaefer was arrested in Argentina and died in a Santiago prison in 2010 aged 88.

Poor, badly educated, and physically and mentally traumatized, some 100 sect members drifted back to their roots in the area north of the German city of Duesseldorf where the sect was born and where state welfare offered them help.

To their horror, Schaefer’s right-hand man, Hartmut Hopp, a doctor who received a five-year jail term in Chile in 2011 for his role in the abuse, also turned up there last May.

Hopp, 67, had skipped Chile before his final sentencing, and Chile wants him back. But the German constitution forbids the extradition of its own citizens.

So Schmidtke and about 120 other Colonia Dignidad survivors, backed by a German rights group, are now plaintiffs in a German investigation into Hopp, for aiding and abetting the sexual abuse of 25 children between 1993 and 1997. They plan to sue the Chilean and German states for failing to protect them despite decades of warnings about what was going on inside the fortified enclave.

Schmidtke wants official acknowledgement of what happened, as well as money to help him and his wife Katharina – another Colonia Dignidad survivor – raise their two young daughters.

“The people of Germany have a right to know what happened too,” said Schmidtke in his tidy flat, which features two canaries singing in a cage, artificial flowers and a print of an Alpine landscape.

When Reuters tried to talk to Hopp at his home in Krefeld town centre, he called the police.

Hopp’s lawyer, Helfried Roubicek, also declined to be interviewed. But he wrote in an email that Hopp was cooperating with the court and that he might one day present the media with evidence that “the charges he is being investigated for by the prosecutors in Krefeld will, in the end, not be upheld under the German penal code and trial law”. Asked to explain, he would only say his arguments would be based on “German law”.

Chile filed an extradition request for Hopp last August. The Chilean judge leading the investigations into Colonia Dignidad said he could not discuss the case.

Germany’s foreign ministry confirmed that Hopp could not be extradited but declined to comment further. […]

Schaefer followed the teachings of American preacher William M. Branham, one of the founders of the “faith healing” movement in the 1940s and ‘50s. Born in a log cabin in Kentucky, Branham said he had been visited by angels and attracted tens of thousands of followers with sermons that advocated a strict adherence to the Bible, a woman’s duty to obey her husband and apocalyptic visions, such as Los Angeles sinking beneath the ocean.
[Read the full report]

Note: William Branham (1909 – 1965) is considered to be a heretic of the Christian faith — due to his denial of the doctrine of the Trinity, one of Christianity’s essential doctrines, as well as his adherence to — and promotion of — a vast number of unbiblical teachings and practices.

Groups that adhere to Branham’s teachings meet under the name Bible Believers, Inc. The movements is considered to be theologically, a cult of Christianity.

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