Al Jazeera Correspondent

'Someone has to be responsible'

A former Colony resident says the German and Chilean states knew what happened there and must be held accountable.

Last updated: 15 Dec 2013 09:38
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Children were separated from their parents at Colonia Dignidad and made to work long hours in the fields [Al Jazeera]

Helmut Schaak was five years old when he moved to Colonia Dignidad. He says the German and Chilean states knew about how the residents were treated.

I came over from Germany with my mother when I was five with my siblings. Family life stopped immediately when we arrived in Chile. We were divided into groups, boys separately and girls separately. Very often we were totally neglected and left alone ....

The Colony - Extra

There was no one you could turn to anymore. Schaefer had already bullied me in Germany, so I had no relationship, I did not trust anyone anymore. My mother was laughed at in front of everyone.

When we were children we already had to work on the fields, collect roots and stones. I must have been six or seven years old. As long as the weather was nice we worked from morning to evening. In the mornings we had to go out when it was frosty, and we were freezing like crazy and in the evenings we returned home in the dark.

They were there quite often, the people from the German embassy. They watched us. Sometimes we had to sing, draw nice pictures, but apart from that… The ambassador was there too, his name was Straetling .... They would always be shown around by someone, they would look at this and that, always the nice parts and areas.

I'm now 57 years old. I worked almost 40 years in the Colony. We were told that everything belongs to everyone and that we were working for charity, and we had everything, food, a hospital and clothing. We were not paid and we didn't know a different life. For us, this kind of life was normal.

The Chilean as well as the German government saw how we lived .... They did not do anything and someone has to be responsible for this, because both governments were there. They ... saw how we lived and worked. They are guilty.

It was difficult to start a family. We did not know what family life was like. We had to completely re-learn everything, firstly what it is to live as a family and education in general. What we went through in terms of education you can't use as a benchmark .... We tried to get help from psychologists, and asked them how you bring up your children. They gave us a lot of written material, advice and, I think, we have managed more or less. We certainly made a few mistakes with our boy, but many people confirm that he has been well brought up .

We left the Colony with a backpack. We got financial aid for one or two years, with that we only just managed the flight to Germany. I worked there for a little while but went back. I felt like a foreigner in Germany. All these laws, and everything was so narrow ....

Al Jazeera Correspondent can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Thursday: 2000; Friday: 1200; Saturday: 0100; Sunday: 0600; Monday: 2000; Tuesday: 1130; Wednesday: 0100; Thursday: 0600.

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