Investigations revealed that residents were indoctrinated, abused and kept as slaves for three decades. (Representational Image)
Villa Baviera, Chile:
It is 18 years since Winfried Hempel finally escaped from an abusive sect run by a paedophile ex-Nazi officer in Chile. He still has nightmares.
Now he is a lawyer and is heading a lawsuit against the German and Chilean states for what he and other youngsters suffered in Colonia Dignidad, a commune founded by German immigrants in the 1960s.
Meanwhile the victims are dismayed that the remote colony is now making money from tourism.
Hempel says both countries allowed the abuse to happen at the ironically named "Dignity Camp" founded by Paul Schaefer, a German later convicted as a pedophile.
Schaefer collaborated with the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, whose secret police used the colony as a place to torture opponents.
Hempel calls it "one of the worst sects that have existed in the history of humanity," a hive of "stupid, fanatical Christianity."
Now he is bringing a joint lawsuit on behalf of 120 former residents of the colony who blame the Chilean state for allowing it to operate for years, during which time they say numerous victims were abused and enslaved.
In one case he is seeking $1.0 million from the Chilean state in compensation for each victim.
He is bringing a parallel case against Germany which he accuses of negligently failing to help its nationals who were abused in the colony.'Smell Of Suffering'
Colonia Dignidad was founded by Schaefer and a group of fellow German immigrants in 1961.
It lies among hills and fields some 350 kilometers (215 miles) south of the capital Santiago.
Now the remote site -- which still looks more like a German village than one in central Chile -- has been opened up to tourists, renamed Villa Baviera, or "Bavarian Village."
That has angered victims, who want it to be preserved as a memorial to abuse victims.
"I can smell the suffering of people in the place," Hempel, 38, told AFP.
He personally remembers Schaefer, who dressed in black and imposed strict rules and punishments.
Schaefer founded the village supposedly as an idyllic charitable farming community.
But later investigations revealed that residents were indoctrinated, abused and kept as slaves for three decades.
From birth, children were raised with almost no contact with their parents, which made them easy prey for Schaefer, Hempel said.
Hempel himself did not know his own surname nor the identity of his mother and father until he was 10.
"There was a God called Schaefer," said Hempel, describing the indoctrination practiced in the colony.
"We were born as if in a laboratory. There was absolutely no chance of becoming aware of who you were."
In 1997, seven years after the end of the Pinochet regime and the return of democracy, Schaefer faced a series of lawsuits.
He fled and was arrested in Argentina in 2005.
Schaefer was 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.
It was only after Schaefer fled that Hempel, then 20, escaped the colony.
February sees the release of "Colonia," a film about the dictatorship and the colony, starring Emma Watson and Daniel Bruhl.'Divine Justice'
Some 160 mostly elderly people still live in Villa Baviera, proud of their Bavarian heritage.
They keep bees and chickens that produce thousands of eggs.
The German flag flies at the center of the complex, where there is a hotel and a restaurant for visitors.
Locals avoid condemning Schaefer. One inhabitant who spoke to AFP said that god must be his judge.
"He did good things too," said the man, who described himself as a "second-generation colonist."
"There is earthly justice, which has been done. And in the end there is divine justice."
But the victims feel hurt to see the colony moving on as though nothing had happened.
Gabriel Rodriguez, who lives in a nearby village, was held in Colonia Dignidad for a week as a prisoner of the Pinochet regime.
"Promoting tourism in a place whose memory is one of death, torture, slavery and mutilation seems to me an aberration," he said.
"It is an insult to the memory of those who suffered and died there."