Hitler House: Old walls, new ideas

BRAUNAU. Concrete plans as to what should happen to Hitler's birth-house have now been finalized. Dr. Andreas Maislinger, academic director of the "Braunauer Zeitgeschichte-Tage", has developed a concept under the auspices of the organization. His idea is to establish a "House of Responsibility" in Braunau.

Volunteers from EU-countries, Austrian Community servants (Zivildiener), and former Austrian Service Abroad interns should work and live together there. This process is meant to encourage a continuous exchange of ideas. Split into three floors, the “House of Responsibility” is meant to be something completely new. The ground floor will be the venue for dealing with the “unwanted legacy” and National Socialist past. The first floor’s function will be dedicated to contemporary society. Through the Verein fuer Dienste im Ausland and other human rights organizations, as well as Third World projects, it will provide specific assistance to people in need. Ideas for a more peaceful future will be discussed and developed on the second floor.

Now it is crucial that “Braunau’s signal to the world”, an initiative of all political parties, the Rundschau, and the “Verein fuer Zeitgeschichte”, will actually be implemented. Interview on page 5.

Braunau is to become a City of Responsibility

INTERVIEW WITH Dr. Andreas Maislinger
(Academic Director of the “Braunauer Zeitgeschichte-Tage”)

What is your resume after completion of the signature campaign “Brannau sets a signal”?
After the idea for the “Branauer Zeitgeschichte-Tage” was born through a comment of Erich Marschall in the mid-eighties, his successor Reinhold Klika succeeded in setting an important signal 15 years later. It is remarkable that, apart from Mayor Gerhard Skiba, the initiatives for a forceful discussion concerning Braunau’s “unwanted legacy”, have come from the local press. In terms of results, I would like to emphasize that the signature campaign has made the “Hitler House” problem well known, and people aware of it. Despite its international success, we had not managed to achieve this through the Zeitgeschichte-Tage.

What were the reactions like?
There were only positive ones! Everywhere, in my home community St. Georgen near Salzburg, in Innsbruck and in Vienna people are approaching me because of the newspaper articles. I also had the opportunity to mention the initiative “Braunau sets a signal” at various conferences. I was always listened to with interest. I am emphasizing this because we have all seen different reactions in the past too. There is no need for me to tell Branau residents about that. Several Gedenkdienst interns have already expressed their thanks for the positive effects of the initiative.

The “Verein fuer Zeitgeschichte” has asked you to produce a concept for the future use of the Hitler House. What are the concept’s underlying ideas?
The last years have seen various suggestions concerning the use of the “Hitler House”. At the last session of the “Verein fuer Zeitgeschichte”, however, its members unanimously expressed their support for my idea of a “House of Responsibility”. By this we mean responsibility towards our past, the problems that we face today, and dealing with our future. I have therefore proposed that each of the three floors are allocated a respective purpose: On the ground floor we want to talk about the “unwanted legacy” and try to deal with the National Socialist past. This is where the office for the “Zeitgeschichte-Tage”, a documentation about “Hitler and Braunau”, and the co-ordination of the Austrian Gedenkdienst interns is to be set up. The first floor is dedicated to the present. Our efforts here will not be related to ideology, but to specific help of people. Worldwide Social Service projects of the Verein fuer Dienste im Ausland, and, if asked for, Human Rights and Third world projects based in Braunau, will be centered here. The third floor will host activities for planning and discussing a more peaceful future, one that should already be experienced through the House’s workings and exchanges. As we will be active on a worldwide scale, the House should be called “House of Responsibility” in English.

What exactly, according to your plans, will be happening in the Hitler House?
Before I answer, I just want to say what it will NOT be: a commemoration site for National Socialism, a center of documentation, a research center, a meeting place or a “Hitler Museum”! In the “House of Responsibility”, volunteers from EU-countries, Austrian community servants, and former Auslandsdienst interns are to work and live together for several months or a year. This should make possible a continuous exchange of ideas. Someone who reads or hears the word “Braunau” in a few years, will still think about Hitler, not however, without the following addition or correction: Responsibility. Responsibility for all people. The “House of Responsibility” is to transform Braunau and Inn in the “City of Responsibility”.

Are there already similar institutions, or is this something completely new?
The “House of Responsibility” is to be something completely new! The conditions for realizing it are very favorable: Braunau is located in the center of Austria and Europe. Daily news coverage confirms (unfortunately) that we are still in need of such centers of communication. Furthermore, and we should not deny this, our “unwanted legacy” is helping us in this case. When an initiative is receiving so much attention, the media’s interest should be equally strong when the project is actually being realized.

Can you conceive working together with Berchtesgaden, where the University of Munich has established a documentation of the Obersalzberg and the Nazi era?
Of course. We would not only work together with Berchtesgaden, but also with many other institutions. Through the “Braunauer Zeitgeschichte-Tage” and the Gedenkdienst, there are already a large number of contacts.

Eight years ago, you began to address a taboo subject with the “Braunauer Zeitgeschichte-Tage”. In the year 2000, is the time now ripe to use the Hitler-House Initiative to make a new step towards dealing with the past?
Yes. Especially because I myself have been involved in dealing with our National Socialist past for the last twenty years, I often asked myself the critical question: Is it not finally enough? In fact, this does apply to one aspect of dealing with the past: The use of our National Socialist past against the political opponent. This strategy will have no place in the “House of Responsibility”! We would thereby be making a very important contribution. With the Verein fuer Dienste im Ausland, I proved that it is possible to remain independent of political parties.

As they are meant to cover a part of the costs, the federal and provincial governments will want to have a say concerning the use of the House. Do you think it would be useful to organize an international competition of ideas?
No. Mayor Gerhard Skiba, the “Verein fuer Zeitgeschichte” led by Mag. Florian Kotanko, and the “Braunauer Rundschau” have proven since 1989 that they have plenty ideas of their own, and are also capable of implementing them. The basic idea is there, and we will therefore not need a competition of ideas. Such contests also often run the risk of procrastinating cause. The positive media coverage of the last twelve years has not only benefited Braunau, but also the image of Austria as a whole. Without false modesty therefore, we are ustified in asking the “Landeshauptman” (governor) and Minister of Interior Affairs for financial support, and, as they have done up to now, for them not to get involved with the details of our work. It will not be to their disadvantage.

How realistically do you believe that the Hitler House will actually be turned into a “House of Responsibility” in, say, two or three years?
Very realistically. Of course we must all save now. Still, at the moment it is difficult to conceive of a project that would achieve so much with comparatively so little money. We are not only saying that, through the “Zeitgeschichte-Tage” we have proved it.

Braunauer Rundschau

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