Germany opens files on Nazi paedophile sect in Chile

Germany is declassifying its files on Colonia Dignidad, a sect in Chile run by a Nazi paedophile, Germany's foreign minister said Tuesday, admitting the diplomatic service's failure to stop the abuses.

Germany opens files on Nazi paedophile sect in Chile
Colonia Dignidad. Photo: DPA

Colonia Dignidad was a German commune founded in 1961 by convicted paedophile Paul Schaefer and a group of fellow German immigrants in a remote part of Chile, where residents were indoctrinated and kept as virtual slaves over three decades.

Schaefer also collaborated with the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, whose secret police used the colony — which lies some 350 kilometres south of the capital Santiago — as a place to torture opponents.

“The handling of Colonia Dignidad was not a glorious chapter of the history of the foreign ministry,” said Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

“For many years, from the 60s to the 80s, German diplomats looked the other way, and did too little to protect their citizens in this commune,” he said as the ministry screened a movie about the case starring Emma Watson and Daniel Bruehl.

“Even later, when Colonia Dignidad was dissolved and the people were no longer subjected to the daily torture, the service lacked the determination and transparency to identify its responsibilities and to draw lessons from it,” Steinmeier said.

Although Germany's foreign ministry is not to blame for the “havoc wrecked by Paul Schaefer… in part along with the [Chilean] military and dictator”, it had a duty to provide “advice and assistance” to German citizens, Steinmeier added.

“It could have sought earlier to use diplomatic pressure to curtail the scope of Colonia's leadership and to push for legal action,” he said, adding that the embassy failed to reach out to residents of the commune.

In a bid to draw lessons from the affair, Steinmeier said diplomats were declassifying files that would have otherwise remained under wraps for another 10 years.

“We are making documents dating from between 1986 and 1996 available to researchers and the media,” he said, adding that older files were already in the public domain.

The scale of the atrocities at the commune came to light only after the end of Pinochet's regime.

In 1997, Schaefer faced a series of lawsuits and fled Chile. He was arrested in Argentina in 2005 and subsequently convicted in Chile for sexual abuse of children, arms possession and human rights violations.

He died in a Chilean jail in 2010 while serving a 20-year sentence.

Former residents of the commune are bringing a lawsuit against the Chilean state for allowing the camp to operate for years, during which they say numerous victims were abused and enslaved.

A separate case is also being filed against Germany for negligently failing to help its nationals who were abused in the colony, lawyer and plaintiff Winfried Hempel told AFP.


Grave of Nazi who helped plan the Holocaust dug up in Berlin

The grave of a top Nazi who helped organize the Holocaust and was assassinated by British-trained agents during World War II has been dug up in Berlin, German police said on Monday.

Grave of Nazi who helped plan the Holocaust dug up in Berlin
The villa where the Wannsee Conference was held which Reinhard Heydrich hosted. Photo: DPA

The grave of Reinhard Heydrich was “dug up in the night between Wednesday and Thursday” and an investigation has been opened on charges of disturbing a burial site, a police spokeswoman told AFP.

German media said it appeared nothing was removed.

Heydrich was the powerful head of Hitler's Reich Security Office, which included the Gestapo.

Less well known than other Nazi leaders, he was nevertheless highly influential and was marked out for his cruelty even within the Third Reich elite.

Adolf Hitler admiringly used to refer to him as “the man with the iron heart”, according to the biography “Heydrich: The Face of Evil” by Mario Dederichs.

Heydrich hosted the Wannsee Conference on January 20th, 1942 when leading Nazis discussed the extermination of the Jews in German-occupied Europe.

During the Nazi occupation of what is now the Czech capital, he became known as “the Butcher of Prague”.

Reinhard Heydrich. Photo: DPA

His car was attacked with an anti-tank mine in the city on May 27, 1942 by Czechoslovak agents trained by Britain's secret Special Operations Executive.

Heydrich died of his injuries a few days later.

His body was brought back to Berlin and buried in the city's Invalidenfriedhof, a military cemetery.

During the Cold War, the cemetery became a no-man's land along the Berlin Wall and his grave – along with the ones of other top Nazis – was dismantled.

But Heydrich's remains were never disinterred and the location of the grave was an open secret.

In 2000, a group of anti-fascists said they had opened up the grave of Nazi stormtrooper Horst Wessel in Berlin, taken his skull and thrown it into the Spree River, according to the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

Police at the time said no remains were stolen.