Paul Schäfer

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Paul Schäfer
Paul Schäfer Schneider

(1921-12-04)4 December 1921
Died24 April 2010(2010-04-24) (aged 88)
Santiago, Chile
OccupationMedic, cult leader of Colonia Dignidad

Paul Schäfer Schneider (4 December 1921 – 24 April 2010)[1] was the founder and leader of a sect and agricultural commune of 300 German immigrants called Colonia Dignidad (Dignity Colony)—later renamed Villa Baviera—located in Parral in southern Chile, about 340 km (210 miles) south of Santiago from 1961 to 2005. Schäfer was a follower and promoter of the teachings of William Branham. Aside from human rights abuses against members of Colonia Dignidad, including the sexual abuse and torture of young children, Schäfer maintained a relationship with Pinochet's military dictatorship (1973–1990) and was involved in weapons smuggling and the torture and execution of political dissidents. After the end of Pinochet's government, increased public awareness of the activities of Colonia Dignidad following testimony by former victims led to the issuing of a warrant for Schäfer's arrest. Living underground for eight years, he spent the last five years of his life in prison in Chile.

Early life and education[edit]

Schäfer was born in Bonn, Germany, in the town of Troisdorf near the Dutch border. He was described as a poor and clumsy student. Schäfer's family was Lutheran.[2] In an accident with a fork, he lost his right eye.[3] He joined a German YMCA-„Eichenkreuz“-Group.[4] During World War II he served as a medic in a German field hospital in occupied France, later in life claiming that his glass eye was the result of a war wound.[2]


Following World War II in 1945, Schäfer served as a young people's leader in the Evangelical Free Church. He was removed from his position there after rumors arose that he was molesting young boys.[2] He then set out as an itinerant preacher and singer, traveling around Germany and preaching. During the 1950s, Schäfer became a follower and promoter of the teachings of American preacher, William M. Branham, one of the founders of the post-World War II healing revival who was also an influence on Jim Jones.[5][6] Branham 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."[7] Branham held multiple revival campaigns across Europe and Germany during the early 1950s.

By 1952 Schäfer had gathered a number of followers and in 1953 set up a children's home and orphanage. Schäfer's early followers were predominantly made up of war widows and their children who were refugees from Soviet occupied East Prussia. In 1959, he created the Private Sociale Mission, purportedly a charitable organization. That same year, Schäfer was charged with sexually abusing two young boys. Schäfer was charged and a warrant issued for his arrest by local authorities in Germany. Schäfer fled the children's home in Siegburg, West Germany with some of his followers to the Middle East to relocate his congregation. He came into contact with the Chilean ambassador to Germany, who invited him to Chile.[2]

In January 1961 Schäfer surfaced in Chile, where the government at the time, led by conservative President Jorge Alessandri, had granted him permission to create the "Dignidad Beneficent Society" on a farm outside of Parral. Schäfer purchased a 4400 acre ranch which he and 10 of his followers began to prepare for his congregation. In 1963, 230 members of his congregation traveled to Chile in the first wave of immigrants. Another 15 families immigrated in two more waves in 1966 and 1973. Schäfer may have been influenced to move to South America by prophecies of William Branham who repeatedly predicted an imminent nuclear war that would devastate the western nations. Schäfer founded his new community on principles espoused by William Branham, including anti-communism, and the society gradually evolved into the Colonia Dignidad cult community.[6]

Schäfer kept children away from their parents in a children's house. He said, "the problems in child education aren't the children; they are always the parents because the parents are responsible for the sins of the children" (original recording).[8]: 28:19  With the sale of the German children's home, he bought a German stonecrusher, which he used in a quarry. The latter proved profitable in business with Chileans and after six years the first wheat could be harvested, barracks turned into houses and a hospital could be built. When Chilean children were treated and survived, their rescue brought fame to Schäfer in the region.[8]: 35:52 

After a nocturnal hunting accident with a gun, Schäfer was treated in a Santiago hospital for several months.[when?] Upon his return, he forbade all festivities, and separated boys from girls and men from women. In 1966, teenage fugitive Wolfgang Kneese hid in the German embassy in Chile and later talked to the press.[9] Schäfer induced another teen named Hartmut Hopp to smear Kneese, accusing him of sexual misconduct at a trial. Kneese managed to flee to Germany. Schäfer allowed Hopp to study medicine in reward, also because he needed a physician in his hospital.[8]: 1:02 

After Salvador Allende came to power in 1970, Schäfer had his community turn the compound into a fortress in fear of dispossession. He smuggled weapons from Germany knowing that containers for his charitable organization were not checked by customs, including machine guns which were soon copied in his machine shops.[8]: 1:22  Schäfer invited Roberto Thieme, son of a German Nazi, and other opponents offering them the Colonia as a centre for planning a coup against Allende.[8]: 1:25  During this time Schäfer started treating children with electric shocks to their bodies, including to their genitalia, to keep them in line.[8]: 1:30 

After Augusto Pinochet came to power in 1973, Colonia Dignidad became one of the secret detention, torture and execution centers of the Chilean secret police, the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), the National Intelligence Directorate during the Military dictatorship of Chile (1973–90)[2]

In 1974, Pinochet visited Schäfer at Colonia Dignidad. Schäfer received the right to dig for gold and uranium, and Pinochet a Mercedes Benz limousine. After the US weapon embargo against Chile, Schäfer dealt with Gerhard Mertins who supplied Pinochet with weapons—rockets, tanks and equipment to produce biological weapons.[10] In 1976 the UN published a report about Pinochet and Amnesty International about torture at the colony, later verified by the Chilean National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation Report.[11][12] The German Embassy could no longer ignore the reports, visited the colony, but said suspicions were without evidence. A delegation of the CSU visited as well and was greeted with Bavarian folkdances.[10]

In 1986 Norbert Blüm visited Chile asking Pinochet to stop the torture. Schäfer did not allow Blüm to visit the colony, which Blüm later said was a "model farm of contempt for mankind".

In 1988, the German attorney general finally started proceedings against members of the colony.[10]

In 1990, after Pinochet had stepped down, Patricio Aylwin cut off state funding for Schäfer's hospital, revoking its nonprofit, charitable status and audited the colony's businesses.[2] In 1991, Schäfer privatized his various enterprises. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl visited Chile. He said that Chile needed to open the colony, but nothing further. Schäfer then mobilized the local residents to demonstrate against the closing of his hospital until the Chilean government reopened it. Chilean children were admitted to the colony, as the colony itself had no offspring. Schäfer started molesting Chilean boys but they started resisting. He used sedatives prescribed by physician Hartmut Hopp, and raped children.[10]

Underground, 1996–2005[edit]

After 26 "colono" children who went to the commune's free clinic and school reported abuse, a judge in Santiago issued a warrant for Schäfer’s arrest, but police could not find him on the compound.[2] Children continued to attend the boarding school, but support of local parents dwindled, yet Schäfer turned teary-eyed departures into propaganda to prove his innocence. Schäfer finally staged a farewell ceremony and disappeared in subterranean living containers. In July 1997 two boys fled to the German embassy; one of them, Tobias Müller, was flown out to Germany.

Schäfer disappeared on 20 May 1997, escaping child sex abuse charges, filed by Chilean authorities under President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle. He was tried in absence and found guilty in late 2004.[13] Schäfer was also under investigation in Chile in connection with the disappearance of Russian mathematician Boris Weisfeiler[13] and alleged human rights abuses.

Schäfer was also wanted in Germany and France in connection with earlier child abuse allegations.

Arrest and death, 2005–2010[edit]

Schäfer was found on 10 March 2005,[13] nearly eight years after his disappearance, hiding in a townhouse in an expensive gated community[2] known as Las Acacias, 40 km (25 miles) from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Following two days of negotiations between Chilean and Argentine authorities, Schäfer was extradited to Chile to face a court hearing. There, he was charged with being involved in the 1976 disappearance of the political activist Juan Maino.[14]

In July 2005, police unearthed Schäfer’s buried military weaponry, much of it World War II vintage, including grenades and machine guns that were produced by the colony.[2]

On 24 May 2006, Schäfer was sentenced to 20 years in jail for sexually abusing 25 children and was ordered to pay 770 million pesos (approximately US$1.5 million) to 11 minors whose representatives had filed claims against Schäfer. Schäfer was found guilty of 20 counts of dishonest abuses and five counts of child rape, all committed between 1993 and 1997.[15]

On 24 April 2010, Schäfer died aged 88 years[16] at the Santiago de Chile's Ex-Penitentiary's Hospital due to heart failure. It was later revealed that he was suffering from a severe cardiac illness.[citation needed]


  • Gero Gemballa: Colonia Dignidad: ein deutsches Lager in Chile. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1988. ISBN 3-499-12415-7. (Colonia Dignidad: A German camp in Chile)
  • Friedrich Paul Heller: Lederhosen, Dutt und Giftgas: Die Hintergründe der Colonia Dignidad. Schmetterling Verlag, 2., erweiterte und aktualisierte Auflage, Stuttgart 2006. ISBN 3-89657-093-5. (Lederhosen, hair buns and poison gas: The backgrounds of the Colonia Dignidad)
  • Ingo Lenz: Weg vom Leben. 36 Jahre Gefangenschaft in der deutschen Sekte, Ullstein Verlag, Berlin. ISBN 3-550-07613-4 (Away from life. 36 years' imprisonment in the German sect)
  • Levenda, Peter: Unholy Alliance, a history of Nazi involvement with the Occult (1995) (makes trouble-fraught investigative trip to Colonia Dignidad). ISBN 0826414095
  • Claudio R. Salinas / Hans Stange: Los amigos del "Dr." Schäfer. La complicidad entre el Estado chileno y Colonia Dignidad. Santiago de Chile 2006, ISBN 956-8410-06-6.


Review by Martin Thull: Herausragendes Dokumentarfernsehen, Medienkorrespondenz, 24 March 2020.


  1. ^ "Muere en una prisión de Chile el nazi Paul Schaefer, fundador de Colonia Dignidad" (in Spanish). 24 April 2010. Retrieved 24 April 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bruce Falconer (1 September 2008). "The Torture Colony". American Scholar. Retrieved 2 April 2020.
  3. ^ Kaes, Wolfgang (2018). "Empathie fuer einen Moerder?". Leidfaden. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 7 (4). ISSN 2192-1202. The boy poked out his eye when he tried to untie a knot in his shoelace with a fork. His classmates, who had already been teasing him incessantly, from then on only called him 'glass-eye'. "Der Knabe stößt sich eine Auge aus, als er einen Knoten im Schnürsenkel mit einer Gabel lösen will. Die Mitschüler, die ihn ohnehin unablässig hänseln, nennen ihn fortan nur noch »Glassauge«."
  4. ^ Friedrich Paul Heller: Lederhosen, Dutt und Giftgas. Die Hintergründe der Colonia Dignidad, Schmetterling Verlag Stuttgart 2006, S. 13.
  5. ^ Brown, Stephen (7 May 2012). "Insight: German sect victims seek escape from Chilean nightmare past". Rueters.
  6. ^ a b Colonia Dignidad and Jonestown by John Collins, Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple, San Diego State University
  7. ^ "Insight: German sect victims seek escape from Chilean nightmare past". Reuters. 9 May 2012. Retrieved 2 March 2016.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Colonia Dignidad. Aus dem Innern einer deutschen Sekte. Documentary by Annette Baumeister und Wilfried Huismann. Part 1: Aus dem Paradies in die Hölle. ARD, 16 March 2020.
  9. ^ Evelyn Finger, 2016-0225. "Colonia Dignidad: Der Zeuge". Die Zeit. Retrieved 3 April 2020.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ a b c d Colonia Dignidad. Aus dem Innern einer deutschen Sekte. Documentary by Annette Baumeister und Wilfried Huismann. Part 2: Aus der Finsternis ans Licht. ARD, 23 March 2020.
  11. ^ "Tales of torture A former member of Chile's national intelligence agency describes some of the methods used against political prisoners". AlJazeera. 15 December 2013. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  12. ^ "The Colony: Chile's dark past uncovered". AlJazeera. 15 December 2013. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  13. ^ a b c Harding, Luke (12 March 2005). "Fugitive Nazi cult leader arrested". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2 April 2008.
  14. ^ "New charges for Chile cult head". BBC News. 22 March 2005. Retrieved 20 October 2008.
  15. ^ "Chilean colony sex abuser jailed". BBC News. 24 May 2006. Retrieved 20 October 2008.
  16. ^ "Chile cult leader Schaefer dies in Chile prison". BBC News. 24 April 2010. Retrieved 24 April 2010.

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