Former Colonia Dignidad member Willi Malessa has been arrested in Chile. The reason: aiding and abetting the disappearance of prisoners.
BERLIN taz | It is one of the last chances to contribute to clarifying the fate of the political prisoners who disappeared in the Colonia Dignidad. On May 5th, Willie Malessa, a former resident of the German cult settlement, was arrested in Chile. Since then, the 73-year-old has been in custody in the small town of Mulchén in southern Chile.
In the “Colony of Dignity” founded in Chile in 1961, sexualized violence, beatings and forced labor were part of everyday life for many residents for decades. During the Pinochet dictatorship (1973 to 1990), the sect leadership around Paul Schäfer cooperated closely with the Chilean secret service Dina, which set up a prison camp on the strictly sealed off site. Hundreds of members of the opposition were tortured in the German settlement and dozens were murdered.
Chile’s judiciary has been investigating these human rights violations since 2005. Since 2021, the examining magistrate Paola Plaza has heard many witnesses.
Malessa is charged with alleged involvement in the kidnapping and enforced disappearance of Juan Maino, Elizabeth Rekas and Antonio Elizondo. The three members of the leftist organization Mapu were kidnapped on May 26, 1976 by Dina agents in the capital Santiago. To this day there is no trace of them.
Relatives hope for clarification
“It’s hard to accept that we don’t know where and how they were murdered,” explains Mariana Maino, Juan Maino’s sister. “We have been looking for my brother for almost 47 years. Our mother was tireless, but nine years ago she died without receiving truth and justice”.
Malessa had repeatedly admitted to investigating authorities and in TV documentaries that he had dug up bodies from mass graves in Colonia Dignidad as an excavator driver in 1978. They were then cremated and their ashes thrown into the nearby Perquilauquén river.
Despite forensic excavation work and soil analysis, none of the people who were murdered or disappeared on the site have been identified to this day.
“We hope that the Colonos [Bewohner:innen der Siedlung] are now revealing information about the whereabouts of the disappeared that they have been holding back for years,” says Mariana Maino.
Criticism of the German judiciary
“The examining magistrate will question Malessa in the coming days,” explains lawyer Mariela Santana, who is representing Mariana Maino. “If Malessa is released from custody, a ban on leaving the country must be imposed so that he cannot leave for Germany,” Santana demands. As a German citizen, he would not be extradited to Chile.
The Berlin lawyer Petra Schlagenhauf welcomes the investigative efforts of the Chilean judiciary, which “unlike the German investigative authorities, has not given up pursuing the crimes in the Colonia Dignidad for a long time”.
Schlagenhauf had represented relatives of Elizabeth Rekas, who was abducted in 1976, and other victims of Colonia Dignidad in investigations by the German judiciary against Hartmut Hopp. The former head of the settlement’s hospital has been convicted in Chile of being an accessory to rape, but lives undisturbed in Krefeld.
Germany as a safe haven for suspected perpetrators
The investigations by the German judiciary against him and also against Reinhard Döring for involvement in the enforced disappearance of prisoners were all dropped. The lawyer criticizes that there is de facto impunity in Germany because the German judiciary has never investigated with the necessary depth and energy.
“Germany has become a safe haven for suspected perpetrators,” criticizes Jan Stehle from the Research and Documentation Center Chile-Latin America. In the same proceedings as Malessa, the former cult doctor Hopp and Döring were also accused by the Chilean judiciary. “Although there is an international arrest warrant against both of them, they live unpunished and unmolested in Germany.”
Malessa came to Colonia Dignidad from Germany in 1961 at the age of eleven. He enjoyed certain privileges, in contrast to most residents he was allowed to marry. In 1998 he left the settlement, which is now called Villa Baviera and has become a tourist destination in the Bavarian style and where there is still no memorial today.
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