A proposal to turn the house where Adolf Hitler was born into a normal residential space has sparked debate in Austria. The property in Braunau, near Salzburg, on the German border, is owned by a retired local woman, but there is a split over whether to highlight its past or to turn the page on such an infamous chapter of history. We spoke to Austrian historian and founder of the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service, Andreas Maislinger and asked him whether the proposal had divided opinion in Austria.
Of course, like everything concerning history, there’s a divided opinion and the main problem is that people didn’t think enough about it – what to do with the House? My answer is clear. I made a proposal in the year 2000 to establish the House of Responsibility.
And what would that entail? Would that be a House like a Holocaust Memorial? Or could you explain a little bit about what that is?
It’s also a part of it. The House of Responsibility has three floors – the ground floor, the first floor, the second floor. And my idea is to show responsibility towards the past, the present and the future in this special house and to invite people from all over the world to work about the past, mainly in Austria and Germany, of course, – national socialism, holocaust. In other countries there’s their own history, but in this house it should be our history, especially the crimes in our history. And the first floor – to show responsibility to the people now, to help them and in the second floor – to think about the future, peaceful future.
And do you think that that awareness of Austria’s past is strong enough in Austrian culture in the same way as let’s say it is in neighboring Germany?
It changed really completely. I’m 57 years old. And 20 years ago I found the Holocaust Memorial Service and it should also be part of this project. And in the 80s it was very difficult, but it changed in 1991 after the end of the so-called communist countries in Eastern Europe. The attitude in Austria changed completely and we defined ourselves not only as the first victims of nationalist socialism, but Austrian politicians realized that many Austrians were perpetrators in the war, especially towards Jewish people.
Is that not a danger that the House of Responsibility could be hijacked, say by far-right extremists?
Braunau House of Hitler was never really an interest for far-right rings and neo-Nazis. The symbols for Nazis are more Nurnberg and Obersaltzberg, especially. But, of course, there’s always some danger. You have to be careful.
So, it’s crucial for there to be House of Responsibilities, as you propose, because otherwise Austrians may forget.
Of course! This is part of it. But therefore I call it the responsibility towards the past, the present and the future. It would be not enough to be speaking only about the past. It’s very important to show responsibility and to act today to help people who are in hunger and who do something against human rights’ violations and to think about the future, because it’s often the case that we act now and we don’t think about the future. Like I’ve said, I’m 57 and most of the young people I work with are around 20 and I think how the world should be in 20 or 30 years. This should be discussed in this House.
You say you work with people who are around 20 years old. What is that generation saying about Hitler?
The young people I know are engaged in my organization, the Austrian Service Abroad, and one part of it is the Austrian Memorial Service. And they work one year also in Moscow, Russia, and in Kiev, Ukraine, and, of course, in New York, Australia and all over the world. They work for one year in the Holocaust Memorial Museum and they show interest in the history!