During the darkest days of Chile's dictatorship, a man named Jorge Schindler saved dozens of leftists by employing them undercover at his pharmacies, risking his own life like a different Schindler during another of history's nightmares.
The South American Schindler's story was published for the first time on Friday in The Chilean Schindler's List, a biography.
It retraces his silent struggle against Augusto Pinochet's brutal regime and the uncanny parallels with Oskar Schindler's secret defiance of Nazi Germany. The two are not related.
Jorge Schindler was active in the Chilean Communist Party when Pinochet overthrew socialist president Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973.
He was soon fired from his government job, an early, ominous sign of the crackdown that would leave more than 3,000 killed and 38,000 tortured by the time Pinochet's demise in 1990.
Instead of fleeing, Schindler decided to open a pharmacy, and hatched a plan reminiscent of Oskar Schindler's manoeuvres to save more than 1,000 Jews from the Holocaust by employing them at his factories, the subject of Steven Spielberg's 1993 film Schindler's List.
The Chilean Schindler soon had a chain of pharmacies that employed activists under false identities to help them escape Pinochet.
"The plan was born out of the need to survive," Schindler, 75, said.
He and his pharmacist Ramiro Rios opened four businesses in Santiago and another just west of the capital. They employed nearly 100 communist leaders and other leftist militants from 1973 to 1978, when the scheme grew too dangerous.
The pharmacies continued operating, and two still remain open in Santiago.
Alsino Garcia, a Communist Party member protected by Schindler in the 1970s, is today the manager of one of them.
He recalled how Schindler's communist "employees" were instructed to assist clients and keep a low profile to evade detection by the feared national intelligence directorate, or Dina.
"Some of them didn't do anything. They were just there. It was a screen to give them a legal existence in the face of an oppressive machine," Garcia said.
Those who received Schindler's protection included former police officers Jose Munoz and Quintin Romero, who had served as bodyguards to Allende and fought in vain to save him the day the military attacked the presidential palace, La Moneda.
Schindler also helped the communists secretly regroup and set up a clandestine network.
"Week after week, comrades from the party would show up, unemployed, with hardly any clothes or just hungry. We did whatever we could to help them," Schindler recalled in the book by journalist Manuel Salazar.
Quintin Barrios, now the manager of the Mexico Pharmacy, remembered how his "boss" would help persecuted activists by renting them houses, giving money and sending medicine. Schindler himself erased all traces of his communist past and maintained no relationship with his employees outside work.
The pharmacies nevertheless drew suspicion and came under Dina surveillance. "Two employees were detained and disappeared, but Dina was never able to connect them to the pharmacies," Garcia said.