One Humboldt Lab exhibit is a Children’s Bible from Colonia Dignidad with text passages pasted over. It is one of 38 special individual exhibits presented suspended from the ceiling
Surrounded by animals, Adam and Eve stand beneath trees. Eva is feeding a deer while Adam is stroking a lion’s mane. This seemingly harmless depiction of life in Paradise is one of the places in the “Shield of Faith” Children’s Bible that the sect leader Paul Schäfer had censored. Everything to do with love and the family was banned from everyday life in Colonia Dignidad in Chile, founded in the early 1960s and based on psycho terror, torture and abuse.
The Humboldt Lab in the Humboldt Forum is exhibiting a Bible censored in this way, a Bible belonging to a former member of the sect and a victim of physical and psychological abuse. “The Children’s Bible is evidence of a system of extraordinary brutality and lawlessness,” says Dr Gorch Pieken, curator of the exhibition. The nondescript book is quite something. It opens one’s eyes to the horrifying history of Colonia Dignidad and to the hazards that democratic society faces.
The Colonia served during General Pinochet’s military dictatorship as, inter alia, an operational base and torture centre for the Chilean secret service. The Federal Republic of Germany was also partly to blame for the decades-long existence of a system in which sect members were oppressed and children were raped. Schäfer partly used his ties with Germany to arrange arms supplies for the military dictatorship. “The embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Santiago de Chile handed back to Schäfer sect members who had fled. Why did the German ambassador break laws in the sect leader’s interest?” Gorch Pieken asks.
The 1973 Chilean military coup against elected President Salvador Allende was also supported by a democratic system: the USA. “The protecting power of modern democracy betrayed its own values in doing so,” Gorch Pieken says. That establishes a connection between the Children’s Bible and current scientific research. The Berlin excellence cluster Contestations of the Liberal Script (SCRIPTS) deals with just such inner contradictions of liberal democracies, and the Humboldt Lab provides insights into its research projects.
In order to visualise the political connections a kind of organisation chart is shown alongside the Children’s Bible. It provides insights into Colonia Dignidad’s network of dependencies and relationships.
Former sect member Robert Matthusen lent the Children’s Bible to the HU. As a child and juvenile he had no copy of his own. Books were kept under lock and key. In the evening the person who was responsible for the children would read passages from the Children’s Bible to them, he recalled in an interview for the documentary series made by the Leipzig production company LOOKSfilm.
He particularly enjoyed the stories of Noah and Moses. He later read stories from the “Shield of Faith” to his own children. In Schäfer’s days no-one mentioned the fact that some images and passages had been pasted over. It was not until Matthusen got his hands on an uncensored copy of the Bible that he realised what was going on. Everything that had anything to do with family or sexuality was censored – passages such as “And God said to Eve: With great difficulty and pain will you bring children into the world.”
Paul Schäfer, Matthusen says, claimed that children came straight from the arms of God. Men and women had to live apart, love affairs and family life were not allowed. If a member of the colony was pregnant she had to hide. “That was why none of us had any idea of how children were born.” Schäfer used his version of Christianity to make people submissive. He misused the Bible to “shackle your conscience,” Matthusen says. Schäfer censored the scriptures he preached. “What ran counter to his personal interest was simply pasted over or crossed out,” says Birgit Rasch of LOOKSfilm.
Paul Schäfer was arrested in Argentina in 2005 and died in prison in 2010 aged 88. The entire history of Colonia Dignidad is examined in a multi-part LOOKSfilm documentary screened by ARTE on 10 March 2020 and by ARD on 16 and 23 March 2020. The film team used historic film material from Colonia Dignidad, current film footage and over 40 interviews with people who had something to do with the Colonia. “We tell the tale of Colonia Dignidad from the inside out,” Birgit Rasch says. Just like the Children’s Bible the documentary refers to the many unresolved issues associated with the Colonia’s reign of terror.
|Date:||07. September 2020|