After reading Lia Rejane’s column about Easter Island, about secrets and musical traditions of this wonderful culture, I felt inspired to show another face of music and culture in Chile. It is perhaps the most violent contrast to Lia’s excursion, but it is worth being mentioned as it shows, how our feelings toward music are conditioned by life circumstances and how music can be misused to cause damage and destruct personality on one side, and used to survey and resist, on the other.

Music in Early Childhood

Since research started about musical dialogue in infant-mother relationship, we know that music is a potent element in early childhood which influences affective and cognitive development, as well as social relation (Jaffe et al. 2001; Malloch, 1999/2000; Papousek, 1981; Trevarthen, 2002). It contributes to the two big needs of human being: individualism and togetherness (Kerr & Bowen, 1988). A sound is able to connect you with yourself or with others, you may listen to your own voice or to the voice of others, to a piece of music on your own or sharing an auditive experience with others. The way, how adults speak to a child and relate musically to it, influences the organization of brain functions, emotion and language. Personality development is also connected to musical influence in the widest sense of the word: since earliest experiences of our mothers’ voice (soft, hard, slow, rapid, paused, quick, fluid, etc), through the “family music”, (meaning the way how we relate vocally: who is the director of the orchestra, the solo player, the bass, the violin etc.) and the predominant music of our culture. Children take the music of their parents, which give them a solid ground for personal and family identity, but they may let this music or include new sounds when they are in need of differentiation (Ruud, 1998).

What happens when the experience of sound and music is manipulated, with a deprived choice determined by one person?

Colonia Dignidad – Colony of Honour

Colonia Dignidad (CD), today “Villa Baviera”, was a German community of 300 people, women, men and children, which arrived in the South of Chile in 1961. What was “sold” as a Benefit Organisation, became a religious sect, a close system and a place of crime. German journals and newspapers informed about sexual abuse, physical and psychological violence and even torture against the members of the group, accusing his leader, Paul Schäfer as main responsible and some of his men as collaborators (Gemballa, 1989; Heller, 1993, 2006; Vedder, 2005). In spite of these early publications nothing was done against Paul Schäfer, the opposite happened, while members of Colonia Dignidad lost their identities and were more and more repressed with all kind of methods, he became more and more power.

My First Impression

Since I was interested in Chile I knew about Colonia Dignidad and had read all these stories about Paul Schäfer and his sect. Therefore, once in Chile, we decided to go to the restaurant that belonged and still belongs to Colonia Dignidad, a 100 km away from their territory, which, by the way, is about 14.000 ha. My feelings were mixed between curiosity and fear. The restaurant was much known in the region for the quality of the food and the nice surroundings of the place. Chileans like to go there on weekend with the whole family to enjoy a good lunch or dinner and relax in a very beautiful landscape. Once a day, some of the Germans transform into actors and present a show, telling jokes and making the audience laugh. I admit, I could not laugh, as I felt that something was wrong with it, too bizarre and strange. These Germans where definitively very different: from the phenomenological point of view, their way of dressing, brushing and speaking. Like Germans from the 30th, cut off a book and put in the South of Chile. There was no congruence feeling and I did not understand why Chilean appreciated all this so much. May be, they liked it, because Germans are supposed to be different, but not bad. Germans arrived in the 19th century as colonists, building up houses, introducing German culture and education in some parts of the south of Chile. They were very recognized people, as they were strong, busy and honest. Everybody knew that they spoke more German than Spanish and that they did not like to mix so much with the Chilean people. Young German people were supposed to marry a German partner. Even the fact that a lot of them followed radical political ideas in the thirties, that is declare themselves as Nazi or forbid Spanish language to their children and in German schools as a sign of adherence to racist ideas, would not change the opinion of most Chilean people. So, nobody seemed to have doubts about the good intention of Colonia Dignidad. How could they? Colonia Dignidad built up a Hospital attending thousands of poor people and a school only for Chilean children. Everybody was grateful, with exception of those Chilean mothers or families, most of them analphabets, who brought their children to the hospital and who never saw them again, as they “agreed” to give their children in adoption to German families. Chilean babies grew up in the German colony without never learning Spanish language or getting to know their biological mothers and fathers (Vedder, 2005). – I never went back to that place but would not forget it either.

Fifteen Years Later …

I never returned to that place, even after settling down in Chile. But, as life is full of surprises, 15 years later, in 2005, as a German psychologist, I was invited to join the psychotherapeutic team to help and assist victims of CD! Why then? The leader of the group, Paul Schäfer, was persecuted by Chilean justice and escaped in 1997. The German government finally decided to visit the place, which was not allowed before, and to get to know the “Colonos”. They wanted to inform about the real situation and offered assistance and help to everybody who wanted. One of the tasks was the renovation of German passports and other documents. Not everybody wanted their help as they felt like betraying the leader. The loyalty was still so strong, even if they did not know where Paul Schäfer was and what would happen with them when Colonia Dignidad disappeared. In their eyes, people from outside where bad people which they must not trust, because they did not believe in God. Only some of them contacted us immediately and told us their horrendous stories. They were our first patients and the first to go back to Germany one year later.

Why and How: A German Sect in the South of Chile?

Colonia Dignidad was a sect with all the rules during 40 years. Beside mental and emotional repression, brain washing and oppression, children and young men suffered sexual abuse by the leader. Most of the boys were victims during more than 20 years of Paul Schäfer’s paedophilic homosexual abnormal conduct (Salinas, 2006).

Paul Schäfer was a self-proclaimed spiritual leader in the fifties. In a little German town called Heide, he started his malign work with adults, children and young men and women. He was very successful in recruiting people and thanks to his charismatic appearance and his religious discourses, many of the still wounded souls of exiled German families, fall into his chains. When German justice accused him because of paedophilic practice, he escaped with a group of people to Belgium; from there he organized the immigration to a far away country, called Chile. He promised a better life, announcing an important social mission that was to help poor children and adults, promoting religious ideas, education and health to them. His group was with him. Most of them left Heide and arrived 1961 in Chile. Others had to stay in Germany, especially fathers and husbands. They had to help organizing financial tasks. The real reason was the plan to separate families as soon as possible, with the intention to put into practice his sexual necessities. Most of the elder people where so convinced that they gave all their money to Schäfer or even sold their houses to help with the project. He promised them to pay back the money once they would have an income in Chile. This moment never arrived – CD became very rich, but nobody never ever received a salary until 2005, the same year, when Paul Schäfer was captured in Argentina, where he stayed hidden during more than seven years, in a luxurious farmhouse located in a big territory, accompanied by five “Colonos”.

The story of Colonia Dignidad lasted about 40 years, years of oppression, brainwashing, sexual abuse of children, punishments, psychical and physical torture, separation of families, brothers, sisters, boys and girls. Colonia Dignidad functioned with pear groups for age and sex, each group with its own name. Each group had to obey to an adult, who had to watch out for control and order, with the instruction to punish whenever it was necessary. Like in all sects, the individual wishes were eliminated. Work, praise and punishment were used to constitute a hermetic system. In case one of them tried to escape, he/she was punished so hard that he/she would not try it again. There is some exception, like Wolfgang Kneese who tried three times until he succeeded. He founded an organization called “Flügelschlag” in Germany to help victims of Colonia Dignidad until today.

The separation between men and women was significant, on one side, it meant isolation, a limited and distorted sexual evolution and abnormal conducts in children. On the other hand, it affected the population of CD: between 1982 and 2000 no children were born. Sexual relation and marriage where forbidden. Those who opposed to this rule were severely punished, isolated or drugged. Some time the victim was shut away in the Hospital during months. People who suffered this kind of oppression still do not remember certain periods of their life.

Well, what about music? How can person play music in these same conditions?

Power of Music – Power through Music

Music played a very important role during all these years of oppression. People related to us that it had different functions. On one side, music helped them to think on positive aspects, it was a part of their education and stimulated their intellectual development. They learned about composers, different pieces and interpreters. Almost all of them grew up playing an instrument, receiving group classes in violin, trumpet, horn, fagot, and other classical instruments. So far so good; but when we asked more about this topic, we could realize that even with music the leader achieved his malign purposes. Let me give some examples: children were asked which instrument they would like to play. When they said “violin”, he or she would learn any other instrument but the violin. When they discussed, they were punished immediately or later on at the group meeting. Their will was broken as soon as possible. Children and young musicians were not supposed to play better than adults, so children with special aptitudes received fewer classes or had classes with others, who were on a lower level, obligated to “wait for them”. It was forbidden to show any emotion while playing, as well as to show pride or ambition. This was very hardly punished. There was one girl, D., with special musical aptitudes. They told us that during 10 years they used to have an invited orchestra director from Germany. This man came regularly during summertime and studied very difficult pieces with the orchestra. He gave D. a special role, e.g. a solo part of a concert. Paul Schäfer did not like that at all, as she was younger than others, and forbid her to do this again. When the same director proposed to take D. to Germany so that she could realize violin studies at the conservatory, Paul Schäfer decided to take her off the orchestra and led her without playing the violin.

Alone While Together

Music was also used to separate people: every day, after lunch and after dinner, they had to practice on their instruments, individually. This made it almost impossible to have a space of time to relate to each other directly, without control and without being observed. Music was used to silence them. In spite of promoting togetherness, it produced more and more isolation. In the orchestra and in the choir they stand together and played or sang together, but they did not watch each other, they had to face straight on to the director. This is a cruel way of being together without being together, without connection, without empathy between them. They were educated to hate and to betray each other. How could they play music together without confidence to each other? They were educated do denounce the other, they were not allowed to listen to the other or keep any secret, otherwise they were punished; the one was punished who listened to the other. How could they play together? They were not expected to enjoy their music. Paul Schäfer loved Paganini and Caruso. He did not support “Liebesleid and Liebesfreud” from Kreisler. He hated titles and music who spoke about love. What are the men, they had to sing and participate in the choir. Paul Schäfer was the director. He chose the repertoire, no love songs were permitted. From one day to the other he changed rhythms and melodies. The one who did not follow his new arrangements was punished and blamed in front of everybody else. The worst punish was to be excluded and to sit down on a bank beside him, sometime during weeks without participating. They felt guilty and blamed. Which healthy and strong personality can develop from such kind of experience?

Music as a Hang Out

The choir and the orchestra where utilized for social events, every time the CD community wanted to demonstrate a happy German family life, they had to perform. The public consists on specially invited neighbours, sometimes on men of politics or military people. The intention was to give a good impression or receive some advantage or special permission. They played German and Chilean music, singing Chilean songs inclusive the National Hymn. Every time the auditory applauded immediately after the performance, Paul Schäfer enraged. Why? Because the musicians were instructed to sing and play in such a deep way, that at the end of the music, nobody should move. The applause meant that they did not succeed this effect, he shouted to them furiously as soon as the public disappeared.

When Paul Schäfer escaped from Colonia Dignidad, on 1997, and years later, when the habitants realized that he would not come back, most of them led their instruments, feeling unable to go on playing in the orchestra. When asked, they did not even know the answer. I suggest that only then, they felt that the instrument represented oppression and obligation, a conditioned life and robotic conduct – not to play brought them a new sensation of liberty.


I tried to have a few music therapy group sessions with some of them. Of course, the idea of “Free Improvisation” did not work at all. They just could not play any tone without feeling insure and helpless. In an Improvisation there is no structure, no base where to lead on. There was no sense-of-Self prepared to articulate a single tone on his/her own. One of them asked me to play some “real song” and to accompany him while singing arias. Then they begged me to play on the piano a strong rhythm, so they could follow me. They liked that very much! They recognized their need of dependency and even laughed about it – but would not like to try improvising again. I then started a new way to relate me with them through music: preparing presentations about famous musicians, Chilean or German compositors and interprets and telling about their lives. So we had the authoritarian and ambitious father of Beethoven, Anne Sophie Mutters way of dressing and presenting herself in a concert and her warm and empathic attitude towards others, Robert Schumann’s and Clara Wieck’s life as a couple, Claudio Arrau’s arriving in Berlin as a child to study piano and so on – we started talking about these little arguments and sometimes, the discussion ended up in a very carefully expressed critical look at their own lives. They appreciate very much my performance; they were so much used to listen to the leader and admitted how difficult it was to give an opinion, to pronounce the word: I think.

With all, most of them felt that the music was a very important part of their lives, some of them were sad because the orchestra stopped, others felt a great relieve. The letter expressed that music always helped them to support difficult moments, acting as a life jacket, as an anchor, as a detractor and a connection to the world. Although they were never allowed to speak to the public, at least they could see other people and compare themselves with them. More than one of them must have felt the difference and questioned the dogma about good and bad human beings.


While habitants from Easter Island where singing their beautiful melodies, in the same land at the same time, thousands of km away, the habitants of “CD Island” where singing their songs, following the perverted ideas and interpretations of a perverted soul. Even worth: on one of these past days, a Chilean woman was detained and tortured in CD. During the procedure, she had to listen to Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italiano” again and again (Gemballa, 1998). She survived and told her story, but will she ever forget this melody and what they did to her, while music was going on?

We cannot blame music for hatred. Music doesn’t create hatred, it can only support a hatred that is already there (Moreno, 1999, p. 13).


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Heller, P. (2006). Lederhosen, Dutt und Giftgas. Stuttgart: Schmetterling Verlag.

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Malloch S. (1999/2000). Mothers and infants and communicative musicality. Musicae Scientiae, Special Issue: Rhythm, Musical Narrative and Origins of Human Communication, 29-58.

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Ruud, E. (1998). Music Therapy: Improvisation, Communication & Culture. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.

Salinas, C. & Stange, H. (2006). Los Amigos del “Dr” Schäfer. Santiago, Chile: Debate.

Trevarthen, C (2002). Origins of Musical Identity: Evidence from Infancy for Musical Social Awareness. In: R. Mac Donald, D. Hargreaves, & D. Miell (Eds.), Musical Identities (pp. 21-37). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Vedder, E. (2005). Weg vom Leben. Berlin: Ullstein.

How to cite this page

Bauer, Susanne (2009). The Meaning of Music in a German Sect in Chile: Colonia Dignidad. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved July 03, 2012, from