Disappeared Colonia Dignidad: The man for the rough is silent

Gerhard Mücke, founding member of Colonia Dignidad, is dead. To the end he refused to explain the fate of those who had disappeared.

An elderly gentleman with a flat cap speaks into various recording devices

Gerhard Mücke in Chile in 1997, before he was sentenced Photo: Christ Bouroncle/afp

SANTIAGO taz | At the age of 88, Gerhard Mücke died in the hospital in the Chilean city of Cuaquenes. Mücke was a leading member of Colonia Dignidad, he had co-founded the settlement of that sect-like community “Colony of Dignity” in Chile in 1961. Now he is taking information with him to the grave that relatives of the disappeared would have needed so badly.

Mücke was the “man for the rough stuff”: according to the unanimous reports of many residents of the German settlement, where beatings, unpaid forced labor and sexualised violence were part of everyday life, he struck particularly often and hard.

He trained units of the far-right paramilitary group Patria y Libertad, which was preparing for the coup in Colonia. He cooperated with the Chilean secret service Dina and was involved in the arrest, torture and murder of opposition figures in Colonia Dignidad.

Dozens of prisoners were in the German settlement, according to residents murdered and buried in mass graveslater dug up again and cremated, her ashes scattered in the nearby Perquilauquén river.

Jan Stehle: "The perpetrators' pact of silence is unbearable"

Mücke was finally sentenced to five years in prison in Chile in 2016 for forming a criminal organization. In 2013 he was eleven years old for assisting in the rape and sexual abuse of Chilean children Sect leader Paul Schäfer sentenced been. He received a further 6 years in prison for involvement in murder and torture cases.

Since then, Mücke has been serving his sentence in prison in the small Chilean town of Cauquenes until he was transferred to that town's hospital. Several attempts to get him to speak so that he could help clarify the fate of those who disappeared in the Colonia Dignidad failed.

To date, none of the people murdered in the Colonia Dignidad have been identified, but other bodies are suspected to be in mass graves on the extensive site. Gerhard Mücke could have contributed to the clarification.

“The pact of the perpetrators like Gerhard Mücke is inhuman and unbearable, especially for the relatives of the murdered. Before information, as in the present case, finally disappears due to the death of the perpetrators, the law enforcement authorities - also in Germany - should do everything possible to interrogate suspected perpetrators and witnesses. The German judiciary has with the cessation of all investigations In recent years, however, the establishment of the truth has been shelved,” says Colonia Dignidad expert Jan Stehle from the Research and Documentation Center Chile-Latin America in Berlin.”

New Chilean government wants to promote education

Meanwhile, the Chilean government wants to push ahead with the search for the more than 1,000 people who disappeared during the dictatorship from 1973 to 1990 with a national action plan. To this end, associations of relatives of the disappeared from all over Chile were invited to a joint planning meeting with the government next Thursday in Santiago.

"We've been at the for six months governmentSince then we have felt it our responsibility to shed light on our country's difficult history," declared Chile's Justice Minister Marcela Rios on September 10 at a commemoration event in Colonia Dignidad, at the "Potato Cellar" where prisoners were tortured.

It was the first time that representatives of the Chilean government attended a memorial event in the former Colonia Dignidad.

To this day there is no memorial

With music, red carnations and photos of the disappeared, associations of relatives and human rights organizations commemorated those who had been tortured and murdered on the site and called for clarification of the fate of the disappeared.

Below one of the rally sites in the Ex Colonia Dignidad, the so-called "field barn" in which bales of straw are stacked, there are previously little-known cellar rooms that are also believed to have been used for torture. The rally participants were able to enter this room for the first time via a ladder they had brought with them.

So far there has not been a place of remembrance, documentation or learning on the site, which is now called Villa Baviera and lives on tourism and agriculture. The German Bundestag had already decided in 2017 to investigate crimes committed in Colonia Dignidad and to set up a memorial, documentation and learning site together with the Chilean government. To promote this is formally also the declared goal of a German-Chilean government commission.

More than a year ago, a team of German and Chilean memorial site experts drew up a design for a memorial, documentation and learning site presented. But international cooperation on this matter has been on hold for months.

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