Introduction: At the Mountains of Madness
That is the secret delight and security of hell that it is not to be informed on, that it is protected from speech, that it just is, but cannot be public in the newspaper, be brought by any word to critical knowledge ...
-- THOMAS MANN
Four o'clock in the morning of an Andean winter found me shivering and alone on the streets of a small farming community in central Chile. It was profoundly dark, as only a poor village of sleeping farmers can be. But it was not silent.
From every side came the endless crowing of roosters and the unnerving howling of dogs like a sound track from hell.
There is something biblically ominous about a rooster crowing in the night and, when compounded by the braying of unseen hounds, one's composure is shaken into splintery fragments of old horror films. Monster movies, yes; and documentary films as well, for the twentieth century has given us a surfeit of both and it's sometimes hard to tell the difference between them. I remembered grainy scenes of goosestepping soldiers, military vehicles groaning through the streets, civilians murdered in their homes. On television, when I was a child, it had been World War II in black and white. Today it was the Republic of Chile, in living color.
It was cold. I shivered. Under other circumstances I might have welcomed the blue-steel chill of anxiety as a tickle from the feather of Maat, the Egyptian goddess who measures the weight of the human soul against it. But there was, that night, even more at risk than the teasing promise of eternal life and the soul's weary passage through the gloomy domain of Anubis, the dog-faced God of Hell.
After all, there was more than hounds' teeth waiting for me in the dark.
The animals themselves were mysteriously invisible as I made my way on broken pavement past the shuttered windows of the town's bakery, grocery, stationery store; tiny buildings huddled together for warmth and succor beneath the bell tower of the village church. I supposed the dogs were tethered in yards and the roosters locked in coops behind the high, whitewashed stone and brick walls that lined the dismal streets. To the east behind me rose the Andes Mountains in all their brooding splendor, black against the black night sky. It was two days past the new moon, and the sky was full of stars.
There was menace in the air that winter. The papers had been full of stories about cells of resistance to Pinochet's fascist regime -- the brave Miristas -- being discovered by the army and wiped out with characteristic brutality. There was no police force in Chile; the army was the police. There was no Congress. The Army was the Congress. There were no courts. None were considered necessary. Even now, nearly six years after the violent and bloody overthrow of Allende's government, there was still martial law in the streets of Santiago. Only the evening before, I had to be certain to rush back to my hotel before curfew began as if I were a character in Casablanca. The Wehrmachtstyle uniforms and goose step march of the Chilean soldiers did nothing to ameliorate the feeling that I was in a time warp, living in a German city sometime in 1939 instead of in a South American city in 1979. The recruiting posters for the army that depicted the Chilean officer's engraved dagger reminded me that I was in a country whose leader admired the SS. A nervous young man of perhaps eighteen in a greatcoat and Sam Browne belt, the distinctive helmet with the ear guards like something out of Hogan's Heroes pulled down over his forehead, had aimed his M-16 at me from the guardhouse of the military academy because I had tried to take his picture. The architecture of the academy itself was like something out of the wet dream of a Bavarian sadomasochist, but it was subdued when compared to the aggressively alpine motif of the Santiago Country Club.
And La Moneda -- the Presidential Palace where Salvador Allende spent his final hours -- was, like Chilean democracy, still in ruins.
So why had I gone deep into the South American interior -- far from Santiago or indeed any other sizable city -- to find myself unarmed and alone in the village square of Parral at four o'clock in the morning? If anything had happened to me there, no one would have known. There would have been no witnesses. No official reports. No body flown back to the United States for burial.
In fact, if things had gone just a bit more badly than they did, there would have been very little body left to send back.
I was in Parral, in central Chile, at the foot of the Andes Mountains that late June of 1979 because I was probing the heart of the Chilean darkness, a neo-Nazi encampment, cult and torture center known as Colonia Dignidad.
The Colony of Righteousness.
Mark my words, Bormann, I'm going to become very religious. 
-- ADOLF HITLER
Like many people, I was shocked to learn of the Catholic Church's complicity in helping Nazi war criminals escape Europe and certain death at the hands of the Nuremberg Tribunals. The Church had provided them with visas and passports in false identities, an underground railroad out of Europe composed of monastery "safe houses" along the way, and -- in some cases -- religious costume: dressing up the various butchers and torturers in the robes of Catholic priests. That the Church would be involved in aiding and abetting these fugitives from justice was shocking enough; that they were helping some of the most rabid anti-Catholics the twentieth century had ever known was beyond comprehension. And the man in charge of this now infamous operation, called by various names Caritas or Aktion Hudal, was none other than the future Pope Paul VI.
These were some of the allegations made in a book by the bestselling author of Patton and The Game of the Foxes: Ladislas Farago. The book was called Aftermath: Martin Bormann and the Fourth Reich. With meticulous detail, Farago reported his search for el gran fugitivo, Martin Bormann -- former Reichsleiter and Hitler's right-hand man -- who, Farago claimed, had escaped to South America dressed as a priest. Farago even went so far as to claim that Bormann, using the name "Father Augustin," had celebrated Mass and performed at least one marriage ceremony in Argentina. Farago even had Bormann attending the funeral for former President Juan Peron, his alleged protector in Argentina.
The Nazi/South American connection is so well known it has become part of the folklore of World War II. Whether Bormann really made it to South America or died in Berlin in 1945 is still a matter for speculation. When Farago's book was published, there was a general reaction among establishment historians that he had been fooled and manipulated by unscrupulous Latin police departments and shadowy "informers" who had lied to him pathologically ... and profitably. For some reason, it was anathema to believe that Bormann had escaped even though we knew Adolf Eichmann had made it to South America (where he was captured by the Israelis) and that Dr. Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death at Auschwitz, was in fact hiding in Brazil.
Heretofore a well-respected popular historian, Farago found himself attacked on all sides for daring to suggest -- albeit with careful documentation -- that Martin Bormann, the highest-ranking Nazi in the world after Hitler, had actually survived into the 1970s. Those of us who were familiar with the success of Simon Wiesenthal, among others, in hunting down Nazi war criminals through a labyrinthine maze of underground safe houses, secret societies, and foreign countries, were willing to at least credit Farago's research, which was as extensive, scrupulous, and thorough as one had come to expect of this Hungarian- born specialist in World War II history. But some of what he discussed seemed so outlandish that critics felt Farago was being had.
Like many others, I bought Aftermath and read it cover to cover in almost a single sitting. It was, after all, the height of Watergate paranoia those days, a time when anything was possible and when any criminal conspiracy by government leaders entirely credible. While his story read like any of the best political thrillers of the day, one statement in particular caught my eye. It concerned Bormann's living accommodations in Chile when he -- according to Farago and to various Argentine and Chilean security officials -- had to leave Argentina after the death of his friend, Juan Peron. It seemed he spent his time between a friend's estate outside Santiago and a small town south of the city. A town by the name of Parral:
Located in the latter region is the weirdest Nazi encampment of the postwar world, housing a sect that combines Nazism and voodooism. Enormously rich from mysterious sources, it maintains a heavily fortified estancia called Colonia Dignidad. It is virtually extraterritorial, enjoying privileges and immunities otherwise reserved only for diplomats. It was to the hacienda of Colonia Dignidad, called "El Lavadero," eighteen miles from Parral, camouflaged as a "cultural and welfare society," that Martin Bormann would move when, fatigued by his restless life in exile, he sought a place where he could be at peace. 
Nazism and voodooism? Weird encampment? Wealthy from mysterious sources? It sounded like something out of a Ludlum novel, and I began making arrangements to see it for myself.
Farago's book was published in 1974, the year after General Augusto Pinochet's overthrow of the Allende government in Chile, with its resulting dissolution of the Chilean Congress and the suspension of all civil liberties following the establishment of martial law. As the book by Thomas Hauser and later the Costa-Gavras film, Missing, made abundantly clear, Chilenos were not the only ones subject to arrest, interrogation, torture, and murder by government forces in Chile. Americans were also vulnerable. At least two American citizens were taken from their homes, tortured, and murdered in the days immediately following the coup.
Living in New York City, I was able to keep abreast of developments in Chile through a wide circle of emigres and political refugees, some of whom were on government hit lists. Through them I was able to learn of the actual existence of Colonia Dignidad, although no one I spoke with knew very much more about it than was published in Farago's book. Chile was in turmoil; people were being rounded up and "disappeared" for years after the initial coup. It would be five years before I was able to venture into the Chilean hinterlands myself, but when I did I was to find that nothing there had changed. Nothing at all.
As I boarded the Lan Chile flight from Kennedy Airport in New York to Santiago, Chile, I was frisked for the first time in my life. My youthful, bearded appearance must have given the security people pause. Yet, a few minutes earlier a crew-cut, blond-haired American man in front of me had very kindly opened an aluminum carrying case and displayed his rifle with telescopic sight to the counter people prior to having it tagged for our flight.
The scene came back to me as I boarded the plane, knowing that at least one person -- and an American at that -- was taking a firearm with him, even if it was in the luggage compartment. So (I asked myself for the hundredth time that week) what was I doing traveling to that most frightening of potential destinations, a Third World military dictatorship?
Writing a book, as it turns out. A potentially soporific study of how religious and cult organizations have influenced political movements since the Middle Ages. The occult has rarely been a topic of serious study by professional historians; yet occultism and secret societies devoted to the occult have been known to wield a disproportionate influence over political events in many countries. While academic historians may agree that this has been the case in the past, no one seriously wants to entertain the notion that cults still function effectively -- if somewhat haphazardly -- in the present day. Because the basis for occult beliefs is often what historian James Webb has called "rejected knowledge,"  academics tend to reject occultists as history's sideshow freaks: gullible, wide-eyed, and crazed naifs floating in a twilight world of schizophrenia and paranoia. Whatever one thinks of the beliefs of the occultists -- I thought -- one must credit their basic courage and their unusually high levels of intelligence. Courage, because they have chosen to live outside the "system": of religion, of custom, of all those things with which society identifies itself and its members. Intelligence, because the occultists one comes across in the few histories available are generally well traveled, speak several foreign languages (including a few dead ones), and have done considerable reading in a variety of disciplines, both mainstream and underground. In effect, occultists share many traits in common with JFK conspiracy theorists; and, yes, paranoia does seem to be a prerequisite for membership in either community but then, as the late literary critic Anatole Broyard once remarked, "Paranoids are the only ones who notice things anymore."  I knew the occult was a major factor in the Nazi Weltanschauung, but this fact was being ignored both by most historians and by those people who considered themselves well read on twentieth century history.
As I write these lines, the Skinheads have become a menace both in America and in Europe and the rise of racist violence on both sides of the Atlantic seems to be taking social critics by surprise. No one seems able to understand what attraction the defeated Nazi Party holds for adolescent white males; certainly no one understands the dimensions of the potential threat to world peace a resurgence of Nazism has in store for us and for our children. To fill this gap -- and to satisfy those smug critics of occult "histories" who insist that the evidence for a Nazi occult conspiracy is virtually nonexistent or at best irrelevant and trivial -- I was busy developing a mass of source material that would show not only how the Nazi Party was essentially the product of a mystical and peculiarly occult vision, but that the weight of previous centuries of religio-political history would demonstrate just how pervasive is the relationship between politics and occult ideas.
So, to counteract the drowsy accumulation of dense references to forgotten fraternities and lunatic philosophies, Colonia Dignidad seemed like a natural: Nazis in hiding, weird voodooistic rites in the mountains, unlimited sources of income. It would be the crowning achievement of an otherwise dry, academic study of right-wing fanatics, fundamentalist Christian, Jewish, and Muslim sects, spiritual corruption and corporeal violence at all levels of society. Colonia Dignidad would represent relevant, up-to-date, man-on-the-scene research.
I had already spoken with Klan leaders and the members of several neo-Nazi organizations in the United States, most of whom were really pathetic groups of men who lived somewhere on the border of abused child and serial killer. I watched convicted Klansman Roy Frankhouser literally kick his mother down the stairs of his Reading, Pennsylvania, "church." I helped a Volkswagen van full of American Nazis find their way out of a small town when it turned out that none of the Master Race could read a road map. I stood on line at a McDonald's in New Jersey as a half-dozen crazed hypoglycemics, sporting outlandish black SS-type uniforms with red, white, and back double-thunderbolt armbands -- the elite guard of James Madole's rabid National Renaissance Party -- loaded up on Big Macs, fries, and shakes while I tried to appear as if I was traveling alone.
Now I was about to investigate the real thing. Real Nazis. Escaped war criminals. Pagan idolators. Screaming psychos in the Andean forests. Little did I know that at that very moment events were being put in motion ten thousand miles away that would have an effect on my activities in Chile and which would, in the final analysis, actually save my life.
Farago's book was roundly, even viciously, attacked. "It wasn't true. It couldn't be true. Bormann's body was found in Berlin, wasn't it? There were eyewitnesses who said that Bormann had been shot crossing a bridge, weren't there?" Therefore, the rest of the book had to be flawed. The troubling implication for me was that perhaps there was no Colonia Dignidad, or that the whole thing had been exaggerated beyond recognition. Perhaps Colonia Dignidad was nothing more than a community of old European immigrants, living out their lives growing the grapes from which the excellent Chilean wines are produced. Perhaps they were -- as Penthouse editor Peter Bloch would later tell me to my astonishment -- merely some unpleasant people who only happened to be German, and not Nazis-in-hiding.
Perhaps there was no Colonia Dignidad at all.
When I landed in Santiago I immediately tried to make reservations on a flight back to the States for the following week, but found that all seats were booked a month in advance. Nonetheless, I put my name on a waiting list and gave the airline the name of my hotel -- the gravely misnomered Grand Palace, two floors of an office building in downtown Santiago. I phoned in every day and visited the ticket offices, but there were no seats, a situation that would soon change in an unexpected way.
I spent the first few days in Santiago seeing the sights, reheating my Spanish, and looking for a few of the locations identified in Farago's book as Nazi fronts. The house and gift shop of Mark Buchs was there, in the Providencia section on Calle San Pablo, just as Farago described it. Mark Buchs was a friend of Bormann, according to Farago, and a devoted Nazi. His gift shop was on the main street -- with a large sign that said, simply, "Mark Buchs" -- and I brazenly went inside and bought a small trinket. A souvenir, you might say, of my days of Nazi-hunting on a budget. Then, I followed Calle San Pablo down to the house at the cul-de-sac, which had several burly men standing around, doing nothing, staring at everything. There were two Mercedeses in the driveway; a nice touch.
I went back across the street from Mark Buchs's and took a few surreptitious photographs from behind a lamp post.
So far, none of this was earning me a Pulitzer. In the midst of all my Nazi-hunting paranoia, however, there was also sadness. After all, I was walking in the very footsteps of Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral ... for that country has given the world two Nobel Prizewinning poets. Chile had been the most literate country in the Western Hemisphere until the coup d'etat that put Pinochet in power. Chile had also boasted the longest continuous democracy in South America. Unlike its neighbors, it had never succumbed to the peristaltic intervals of civil war and revolution that stereotype Latin governments in the eyes of most North Americans. Salvador Allende had been a democratically elected president who had also survived a confidence vote later in his administration. It would take a CIA-ITT-financed truckers' strike, punitive World Bank actions instigated by the United States, and a junta of Chilean military power -- aided, abetted, and gleefully encouraged by the United States government under Nixon and Kissinger -- to put an end to democracy in Chile for many years. And Pablo Neruda, Chile's most beloved poet, would die only days later; some say of a broken heart but the truth is much grimmer: his home was surrounded for five days by Pinochet's troops so that Neruda -- gravely ill with cancer of the prostate -- could not receive the vital medical attention he needed.
Later, a much-admired former Chilean statesman -- Orlando Letelier -- would be murdered in the streets of Washington, D.C., by agents of the Pinochet regime; victim of a conspiracy masterminded by an American assassin: a morally bankrupt psychopath and electronics freak who had designed the torture chambers of Colonia Dignidad.
In the end I managed to make arrangements to go to the tiny town of Parral, where the infamous Colonia was supposed to be located. I rode a very comfortable Pullman bus that took the Pan American Highway south through the village of San Fernando (a rest stop where I ate a cold hot dog on a stale bun: a local delicacy called una vienesa, a "Viennese") and then into the province of Linares. As we drove further south the sun began to set, and in the waning light at one stop I could see a small crowd of people -- old men and a few women -- in a poor, ramshackle village, huddling around a fire in an oil drum in the muddy dirt road that served as their Main Street. Small children, dressed in little more than rags, were coming from all directions carrying planks and odd lengths of lumber to feed the flames. It was as if they were tearing down their village, piece by piece, for warmth.
I arrived at Parral in the middle of the night. Other than the sounds of the howling dogs and crowing roosters, the streets were absolutely empty. There were no lights on in the homes, or around the square with its obligatory statue of Bernardo O'Higgins, the oddly nomenclatured Father of his Country. The Catholic church in the square was dark, its only illumination the deep red glow of the tabernacle lamp that affirmed the lonely presence of God somewhere in the mysterious heart of this remote village. In the distance, I could make out the train station and decided to walk in that direction and perhaps find someplace warm to sit until the sun came up.
June in Chile is the beginning of winter. It was quite cold, and I was getting hungry, but there was nothing for it but to wait until I could find someone to drive me out to the Colony. As I made my way down the deserted calles to the station, a bizarre figure from out of a Fellini film suddenly appeared in the dull wash of a streetlamp at the far end: a man, wrapped in a dark woolen poncho and wearing a beret, riding on a bicycle, and carrying a large greasy stick, with a mangy dog attached to his bike by means of a heavy chain.
He bade me stop and identify myself, claiming that he was the "night watchman" (el vigilante) for the town. He appeared old and grizzly, with a three-day growth of stubble, but he was the only human being abroad in the night and his dog looked vicious, so I dutifully handed him my passport.
"North American, huh? We've never seen a norteamericano down here before. Where are you from? Chicago?" He grinned at me in my trench coat, visions of Al Capone and bathtub gin dancing in his eyes.
"No. New York."
Almost as good.
"What are you doing here?"
"Waiting for a train."
At this, he laughed.
"A train? In the middle of Parral in the middle of the night? I don't think so. You had better tell me the truth."
As he was trying to find out what I was doing in his town, we were approached by two more men drawn by the sound of our voices. These wore the uniforms -- and carried the rifles -- of the army, and my newfound friend made the introductions.
They also asked to see my passport, and they passed it among themselves, shifting their weapons from hand to hand as they did so. Now I was nervous. Would I be arrested? Would I be "disappeared" like my American predecessors? Would I be tortured first, then killed?
At that point, the night watchman, Senor Francisco Molinas, invited us all to his house for a drink.
The pickle jar of homemade aquardiente went around a few times, and I was observed drinking the stuff and eating a grape that had been marinated in that crystal-clear, overproof moonshine for what must have been more years than I was alive if the mule kick it gave me was any indication. The two soldiers leaned their rifles up against the wall of the one-room
shack, warm in the heat of a smoky, wood-burning stove, and we all sat around talking. I was well aware of my position, and I most certainly did not want to get drunk. I feigned shock at the tremendous alcoholic content of the moonshine, coughing and gasping, which brought smiles of approval from my companions along the order of "that gringo has never tasted really good, strong liquor before, not like we have in Chile." And eventually the topic of conversation turned to what exactly I was doing in their tiny town in the middle of a rural Chilean nowhere.
It was then that I realized I could not keep it a secret any longer. It was foolish to insist that I was simply waiting for a train, although that was the first thing that came to mind when I saw Mr. Molinas and his dog. I told them the truth, that I had come to Parral to seek Colonia Dignidad.
It was as if a cold wind had just gusted through the room straight from the snowy peaks of the Andes. My hosts sobered up immediately. It was their turn to be shocked, for it seemed as if they had truly not expected me to be there on so foolhardy a mission.
The troops warned me repeatedly not to go. That it was dangerous. That the people of La Colonia were hated and despised throughout the region. That they functioned as an independent state, completely separate from any local authority. That they operated a medical clinic that was free to the locals two days a week, but that it was a last resort for most Chileans because they did not trust the German doctors and especially not a particular German nurse with a sadistic gleam and brutal disposition. That they were all foreigners, not a Chileno among them. That they received checks for large sums of money that came in the mail from all over the world. Including the United States. That they were well armed. That if I went there, I would probably not return.
That they practiced strange rites in the forests on holidays that were unknown to the Christian calendar.
Whether it was the false courage of the aguardiente or the realization that I had come this far and wasn't about to return empty-handed, or the immortal confidence of a twenty-eight-year-old weekend warrior sitting around hobnobbing with armed soldiers in an alien land as if he belonged there ... I decided that, as soon as the sun was up, I would go.
We parted amicably at dawn. The troops would not prevent me from going to the Colony. It was not against the law to go there, to voluntarily enter where many had tried to escape, only stupid. After the soldiers left, Senor Molinas introduced me to his young and beautiful wife and three children in a neighboring hut where they had been sleeping, wrapped in woolen blankets on the floor. Blinking in the light of a kerosene lantern, they stirred awake and smiled at me: a weird apparition in trench coat and camera. Molinas had to return to his mysterious occupation, and left me temporarily in the care of his brother, who insisted that I visit his house. Dawn was just breaking, and there was no transportation anyway, so I followed the shorter Sr. Molinas hermano to his home, whereupon he disappeared for a moment into another room.
Looking around, I could see that the people of Parral lived quite simply. There were religious pictures on one wall, and a heavily carved and painted wooden crucifix -- that looked at least a hundred years old -- on another. Finally, my host appeared and in his hand was a rifle.
It took me a moment to realize it wasn't pointed at me. He offered the rifle for my inspection -- a surprisingly lightweight, bolt-action model of uncertain manufacture -- and asked me if I wanted to go hunting with him and his friends. I swallowed, and then politely declined, saying that I had to go to La Colonia. He smiled a little ruefully and took a good, long look at me as if for the last time. He shook his head, and then my hand, and led me out the door and directed me back to the town square.
It still being deserted, I made my way on foot to a gas station on the highway outside of town that had a cafe, and I ate what I reasonably assumed could very well be my last meal, of steak and onions in an otherwise-deserted restaurant.
Then I returned to the square and, finding a cabdriver waiting around in front of the church -- it was now Sunday morning and I could see preparations for Mass being made through the open doors -- we agreed on a price and made for Colonia Dignidad with all haste.
In 1979, the Colony of Righteousness was reached by a dirt road off the Pan American Highway, south of Parral, that wound up and around a series of foothills of the Andes Mountains. At one point there is a fork in the road. A left turn will take you to a popular hot spring resort. The right road takes you past something called La Colonia Italiana, a poverty-stricken estate of starving burros and emaciated farmers, before you reach the higher ground and the main entrance to Colonia Dignidad. I thought it ironic that the German colony should be situated cheek by jowl with an Italian counterpart, as if the Axis powers had felt it necessary to reproduce themselves in microcosmic form in this out-of- the-way section of South American forest.
But as we climbed higher into the mountains, passing a pair of huasos or Chilean gauchos on horseback, their Clint Eastwood hats and serapes making them seem like noble lords of the hills, I noticed a striking difference between Colonia Italiana and Colonia Dignidad. The latter smelled of money. The very forests-mostly dark and evergreen, like some kind of displaced Schwarzwald -- seemed manicured. Finally, we crossed a small, decorative bridge and drove through an open gate to a parking area in front of a rustic wooden building that I guessed housed some sort of reception facility.
At this point my driver became very agitated. He urged me to take my photographs quickly so that we could get the hell out of there. I didn't need to be warned twice. I jumped out of the car and took perhaps ten or twelve shots in rapid succession, covering 360 degrees around me, elated that I had what were probably the only photos of Colonia Dignidad in honest (that is to say, civilian) captivity. It was then that I heard muffled conversation coming from behind the door of the wooden reception building, a building that I had thought was unoccupied. From the bursts of static that accompanied the voices, I knew that someone was talking on a radio. In German.
I ran back to the car and my driver hit the gas pedal ... and then the brake in rapid succession. Before us, the gate we had driven through so brazenly only moments before closed electronically, and a car -- a white Mercedes with venetian blinds in the rear window -- appeared from nowhere to block our escape. All four car doors opened, and some of the largest human beings I have ever seen left the Mercedes and came over to surround our car. My driver's hands were frozen, white-knuckled, to the steering wheel, and he kept saying, over and over, "Oh, no. Oh, no." From every angle around us, more men appeared, some dressed in ersatz fatigues with Sam Browne belts and others in surgical blues. Visions of Mengele in his lab, or of the mad dentist in Marathon Man, fought for control of my heartbeat. All the men were running, panting, out of breath.
We had caught the Nazis with their pants down on a beautiful, sunny, Sunday morning ... and now they had caught us.