November 03, 2011
SAN BERNARDINO - Experiencing the Nazi legacy in South America costs just $40. This is the rate to spend a night in the best room of the Hotel del Lago, founded in 1888 on the shores of the Ypacaraí Lake, in Paraguay, in the small town of San Bernardino, 50 kilometers east of the country's capital, Asuncion.
Given that Paraguay does not have access to the sea, the lake is the trendiest destination for a vacation. San Bernardino, however, is notorious as the place that sheltered Joseph Mengele, the Angel of the Death, a German SS officer and physician in the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
After Germany's defeat in World War II, Mengele fled to South America where he hid for decades.
According to unproven theories, Mengele, one of the most wanted Nazi war criminals, died in San Bernardino, not in Brazil, as usually reported. Regardless, there are plenty of other phantoms from the past in this small town, which was founded in 1881 by five German families, and still hosts a German Mennonite colony.
The hotel is still very popular and has a cultural center that promotes local craftsmanship. But behind its quiet façade and tropical setting, this village hides a long string of connections with Nazism.
Passing a 19th century Teutonic-style hall, a smiling waitress walks the visitor to the best suite of the hotel, and reveals other old stories.
The German architect Wilhelm Weiler designed Hotel del Lago. In one of its rooms, Bernhard Förster -- husband of Elisabeth- Förster- Nietzsche, and brother-in-law of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, a brave explorer but also a theoretician of anti-Semitism -- committed suicide. After the failure of his project to fund an Aryan colony in Paraguay, named Nueva Germania, Bernhard chose death before dishonor.
In the 1930s, Nazism became popular in Paraguay, and Förster was considered a hero to some. Adolph Hitler would later order German soil spread over his grave. Moving from the hall of the hotel to the suite, the visitor has to walk in front of Förster's room, number 19.
La Tigresa and Hitler
In one of the building's small towers, there is the favorite room of one of the most powerful women in San Bernardino, the French-German Hilda Ingenohl, known as "la Tigresa," due to her passion for hunting large felines.
"She was a Nazi supporter, worshipped Hitler's ideas and claimed to be his friend," says a woman from San Bernardino, who didn't want to give her name. Ingenohl's life had many chapters. She was born in Paris in 1874, and was a nurse in Europe during World War I. Flying was another passion of hers. Some say she was actually a pilot during the war, and that she was one of the first women who attempted, unsuccessfully, an uninterrupted aerial circumnavigation of the world.
After the end of the war in 1918, Ingenohl moved to South America. First, she went to Uruguay, upon the invitation of Grete Goetsch, wife of the German ambassador, then, to Argentina, where she directed the German Hospital in Rosario, and finally to San Bernardino, which she fell in love with. She bought 200 hectares of land, but she spent most of the time in the room in the tower of Hotel del Lago.
Today, that same room still features a king-size-bed, a closet with a mirror, and large balcony which looks over the entrance of the hotel. This was Ingenohl's small kingdom, where she planned her frequent trips to Europe. She loved classical music and founded a youth orchestra. She had even met the famous Paraguayan musician Florentín Giménez. In 1953, she got cancer and moved back to Bonn, in Germany.
The hotel claims other notable – non-Nazi – guests from the past, including the French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Swedish writer Ida Bäckmann. Still, it is the link to Nazism that remains a major skeleton for both this town, and the country as a whole. Even well before Mengele's sojourn after the war, it was in Paraguay, in 1927, that the first Nazi party outside of Germany was established.
Read more from La Stampa in Italian
photo - Julien Rotelarosow
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With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson
October 26, 2021
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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