Ilse’s Memories in Colonia Dignidad

Thanks to this novel about the atrocities in Colonia Dignidad, what is most striking is that this topic has not been explored in much depth in public opinion, and until not many years ago there were right-wing politicians closely linked to this painful and putrid episode. of history developed in national territory.

During my last trip to Chile I discovered the recent novel by my friend and colleague Emma Sepúlveda, published in Spain and in our country. The book has Colonia Dignidad as its backdrop, a historical but distant enigma for my memory, and perhaps for many Chilean men and women, who have never been more interested, unfortunately, regarding what happened in that space. Curiously, I opened the pages of the novel and began to read between a very long flight to London with a long stopover in the United States. The book allowed me to shorten the travel times between continents, since it has an agile and fast pen, but at the same time it tells a terrifying story, which has passed inconsequentially before our eyes.

The book is fiction based on real events and, as the author herself told me, after years of research and a strong collaboration from the National Library of Congress, in which she obtained a series of documents to support what appears there, Emma Sepúlveda managed to write these pages.

Book cover.

The novel develops through a (fictional) life diary, written by its protagonist, a German woman who lived through the end of her childhood, adolescence, and adulthood locked up in Colonia Dignidad (Ilse); she who she begins by recounting from that trip from her distant Gronau, in North-Westphalia of Germany, to the commune of Parral in Chile. Ilse tells the story of her and her family, of how Paul Shafer he associated with his father, both evangelical pastors, who devised a plan to leave Germany to conquer new lands in the south of the world. This is how the Colonia Dignidad project was born. Thanks to his preaching, of great eloquence and charisma, they managed to retain a number of followers, who, convinced that Shäfer was the new Christ on earth, decided to sell their goods and join this new company. Among them was Ilse’s family, who left with her seven siblings, her mother (pregnant with her last daughter) and her grandmother to Chile.

After a very difficult journey by boat, they arrived in Valparaíso and then Parral. Once in the territory, Shäfer builds a State within the State of Chile, not only with his own rules but also with his own history and a religious sect based on a twisted interpretation of the word of God. It was thus, as the protagonist recounts, they begin to suffer punishment for “bad and impure” behaviors, such as talking to other people, or even establishing the sexual desire to associate with men from the same Colony. The socialization they were taught was based on mistrusting other people and reporting bad behavior from their peers.

What happened inside Colonia Dignidad was nothing more than a reproduction of a concentration camp, a kind of Chilean micro Auschwitz, in which all its inhabitants were isolated from life in the outside world and their own family and social relationships were also broken. profoundly affecting the way of life of these people.

Paul Shäfer, a pedophile Nazi denounced in Germany, decided to flee his country of origin and shape this adventure, in which he not only illegally enriched himself, but also sexually abused hundreds of German children, children of the settlers, protected by the word of God. And for them to forget the sexual abuses committed by the uncle paul either permanent uncle, as they called themselves, used the most sophisticated techniques, such as electroshock treatments and strong doses of psychiatric drugs, so that these children could obey and give in to Shäfer’s commands. But what is most striking in the story, and I cannot be abstracted as a feminist, is the misogyny and physical, sexual and psychological violence with which the women were abused and tortured. The families were disarmed, and the mothers were no longer the mothers of their children, and their children were no longer their children, they came to be called “aunts” of the entire community, and their sons and daughters had only parents: Shäfer, and God . Women were stripped of their very nature, both as a person, as well as the possibility of fully developing as human beings.

The brutality with which women were annulled, protected by an unleashed hatred and contempt, since they were considered abnormal and inferior beings, is what most impacts the text. From torture, electroshock, abundant psychiatric medication, to forced sterilization, denying them any possibility of human reproduction. Likewise, women were treated as diabolic beings who “tempted” men to indulge in carnal pleasures, so even when they were raped by the colonists, they were punished for provoking men and for removing the devil from their bodies and minds. . The physical torture was carried out by Paul Schäfer and the leaders of Colonia Dignidad.

Ilse’s diary is also situated in a series of historical events that occurred in Chile from when she was 11 years old (1960s) until after 50, when she managed to get out of that confinement (2000s). Once outside, the protagonist was able to recover her body and recover the condition of her social being that she lost during almost five decades when she remained in Colonia Dignidad.

The protagonist recounts how Shäfer bribed the entire national political spectrum (from left to right), established strong links with the dictator Augusto Pinochet and armed groups such as Patria y Libertad. This close link gave him the chance to traffic arms during the dictatorship and thus expand the business. In return, Shäfer took charge of the political prisoners who, together with the German colonists, were in the extensive torture sessions that took place in the underground and in the German hospital of Colonia Dignidad. It’s more, the protagonist is going to tell how Paul Shäfer and the hierarchs sent them all to burn the bodies of the detainees and tortured who did not resist the torture and political violence exerted on these bodies, and thus avoid all kinds of traces of them and they.

I highlight from the work of Emma Sepúlveda the exhaustive account of the ways in which each of the people who arrived from Germany to Colonia Dignidad were emptied of what Hannah Arendt coined as the human condition. How her conception of her family was adulterated by a pedophile psychopath like Paul Shäfer. The story also gives us a detailed picture of how and why these Nazi criminals tore out of Germany (the allegations of child sexual abuse received by Shäfer in his native country) and how they were received by “generous Chile.” .

On the other hand, the book will also give an account of the need to steal Chilean children, children of peasants, when German children began to grow and were scarce to satisfy the sexual appetite of the leader of Colonia Dignidad. Entire families of peasants were affected by the theft of these small inhabitants, of whom no one speaks. Oblivion has erased them from the history of Chile and they have not even received compensation for the omission or negligence of both the State of Chile and Germany.

In Ilse’s story, it is also observed how the most sophisticated torture techniques learned in Nazi Germany were used, and how they were perfected over time. So much so, that they served not only to mistreat and harass the German-speaking people of the Colony, but also to torture and execute hundreds of Chilean citizens who disappeared during the painful years of the Chilean military-civic dictatorship.

From my perspective, What draws the most attention is that this issue has received little or no depth in public opinion, and until not many years ago there were right-wing politicians closely linked to this painful and putrid episode of history developed in national territory. Likewise, for the authorities of all political positions, this issue has gone unnoticed, when urgent reparation is required for the victims, so that Chile will never again serve as the scene of these humiliations and abuse of power against the bodies of innocent children and women victims of the psychopath Paul Shäfer, his henchmen and accomplices.

A book that leads us to reflection and calls us to action.

Javier Arce

political scientist

Ilse’s Memories in Colonia Dignidad