Seventy years after the Second World War Braunau is still struggling to find a solution for the birth house of Hitler. Since a sheltered workshop moved out four years ago, it has been empty. A real “House of Responsibility” is not in sight.
“Young people need idols. Correctness in manners, responsibility, madam!”, writes Gerhard Polt in his tennis-satire “Longline”. Social correctness, the responsibility for one’s history leads like a fuse to the house that inflicted sustained damage to the reputation of the Austrian border town Braunau am Inn for over seventy years. It is the property Salzburger Vorstadt No. 15, corner Schmiedgasse, in which Adolf Hitler was born. For four years it has been empty and running to seed. In front of it a memorial stone with the inscription “For peace freedom / and democracy / never again fascism / millions of dead admonish”.
Declared a national monument in 1938, bought from Martin Bormann for 150.000 Reichsmark under thread of expropriation and refurbished, the five hundred years old town house was meant to accommodate a National Socialist cultural center. The initials “MB” can still be seen in the wrought-iron lattice. Hitler had no actual interest whatsoever in the house, in fact he systematically tried to erase all the testimonies regarding his little glorious descent.
No contemporary historical use
After the war the former owners re-purchased the property with its floor space of around six hundred square meters for the equivalent of 25 000 Mark. In 1972, they signed a lease agreement with the interior ministry in Vienna, which in turn subleased to the town of Braunau. The current owner, Gerlinde Pommer, receives a monthly payment of 4800 Euro of which sixty percent is paid by the federal government and forty percent by the town. Recently the ministry made a bid that was countered with the proposal to divide the real estate – the talk of profiteering made the rounds.
The notorious claim that the house is a pilgrimage site for people of the die-hard ideology is not necessarily true. The general case looks a whole lot different: It’s mostly tourists strolling over the Italianate market square who are on the search for the birth house. Certainly the danger would not be insignificant if it fell into the wrong hands. Not only the mayor of Braunau – who himself once flirted with the idea of turning it into a residential home – is terrified of this scenario. The building has been used for various purposes over the time. It had been a residential house, home to a financial institution, a lodging / guesthouse / inn and most recently until 2011 a workshop for the disabled. After that, the municipality wanted it to house the adult education center and the welfare organization “Volkshilfe Österreich”. But nothing came of it. Not only is there a lack of one thing, a convincing proposal for its use that has the support by a majority – there is also the struggle with the obstruction on the part of today’s owner who controls the events in a wayward course: The rental agreement explicitly prohibits the use in a contemporary historical context. If it’s for the will of family Pommer the house is not going to serve as a place of commemoration.
Liberation, not closure
Not everyone sees it this way. Just now the political scientist Andreas Maislinger has revived a proposal in order to exercise pressure on the indecisive municipal policy. For nearly fifteen years he promotes the creation of an international meeting place – so far unsuccessfully. When the last renter the charitable organization “Lebenshilfe Österreich” moved out the opportunity seemed favorable. But nothing has happened. Even despite the willingness in Braunau to face its past – unlike in other parts of Austria – is not missing. There is an association for contemporary history, a task force for Hitler’s birthplace and the population has an above average knowledge of history. Finally there is Maislinger, who has been awarded multiple times for his commitment to reconciliation: He was the initiator and director of the recognized Braunauer Zeitgeschichte-Tage (Braunau Contemporary History Days).
He hopes for a “clear, globally communicable purpose”: The so called “House of Responsibility” he proposed should be a venue for young people from all around the world where they can acquaint themselves with the principles of freedom, human rights and the rule of law at various workshops and conferences, scientifically accompanied and supported by non-government organizations. In a local newspaper Maislinger claimed that the “House of Responsibility” could be a liberation for Braunau: “Future generations would not have to deal with the problem of Hitler’s birthplace anymore”.
Liberation, not closure: With the “House of Responsibility” one would probably speak of a win-win situation.