What Will Hitler’s House of Birth Become?

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Braunau am Inn : Once a pilgrimage site for diehards, in the future the building shall be used as „House of Peace".

It’s not Braunau’s fault. And yet, every encyclopedia lists it, every child knows it, no tourist guide keeps it secret: Braunau am Inn is the native town of Adolf Hitler. Now, the house in which the future “Führer” was born on April 20, 1889, and where he spent the first three years of his life, shall receive a new destiny. The reason: The current tenants are moving out.

The Hitler family lived in a small apartment on the first floor of the corner house “Salzburger Vorstadt No. 15” in Braunau. Hitler called it a “lucky destiny that fate meant for me to be born in Braunau. This small town, situated at the border of those two German states, whose reunion appears to be a life-task to be implemented at all costs by us younger people.”

The Führer’s House of Birth.

In 1912, failed painter Adolf Hitler had already lived in a Viennese asylum for the poor. In that year, ownership of the house in Braunau passed to the Pommer family, who also ran the inn on the ground floor. After the “annexation” of Austria the “Führer’s house of birth” was sold to the National Socialist party (NSDAP), which declared it a “cultural center”.

In May 1945, when a German task force wanted to blast this highly symbolic building, American soldiers were able to prevent that from happening. Soon, the house was restituted to its previous owners, the Pommer family, and served as library, a school and in the end as accommodations and workshop for disabled people of the “Lebenshilfe” (Aid to Live) association.

Now the “Lebenshilfe” relocated to a new building, where most tenants of the “Hitler-House” moved to; the others will leave in 2010.

What Will then Happen with Hilter’s House of Birth?

“This is a delicate question“, says Gerhard Skiba, mayor of Braunau. Delicate because the town does not want to be a pilgrimage site for die-hards. “As former participants in the war used to come, today we are risking becoming a center of attraction for neo-Nazis. That, I want to prevent, and 99 percent of the people in Braunau are backing me up.” Skiba’s plan: “The Republic of Austria should buy the house, in order to make it available by the state. I have in mind a ‘House of Peace’ or a ‘House of Responsibility’, where social projects are being realized and exhibits are shown.” The word museum , the mayor disapproves of, “because of the danger, that all over the world the house is then called Hitler-Museum.”

This must not be. The mayor, a Social Democrat, wants that “Braunau faces its history, and that the horrors of the Nazi period are demonstrated in this house.” He is about to talk to the Federal Chancellery, the Ministries of Interior and of Finances to pave the way for the purchase. And he is optimistic of succeeding this time, although previous negotiations have failed because of the owner’s intent.

Museum of Liberators

But there are other proposals for utilization as well: “The people of Braunau are tired of being seen primarily as Hitler’s town of birth”, the German-American historian Anna Rosmus says, and delivers a concept of a museum of American liberators. It shall be named after General Reinhart, commander of the US-division that liberated Upper Austria in May 1945. Andreas Maislinger, a political scientist from Innsbruck and initiator of this idea, emphasizes “that Reinhart behaved exemplary as Military Governor of Upper Austria, and revitalized the cultural and economic life there.”

Hitler’s Time in Braunau

Florian Kotanko, a historian and director of a secondary school in Braunau, can imagine the house in the centre of the town with its approximately 600 square yards being partitioned into three. “In one part of the building Hitler’s time in Braunau could be documented, in another the liberation by the Americans, and another aspect should direct the visitor into the future.”

Mayor Skiba wants to “discuss all ideas, but not to make premature decisions”, for the usage of the “Hitler-House” has been a topic in Braunau for decades: After the war, there was a plan to demolish the building, later one wanted to establish a commemorative site against war and fascism. When the town council wanted to mount a memorial plaque on the facade of the building, the owner prevented it by court order because she was afraid of possible attacks. Thereupon, in April 1989 – two weeks before Hitler’s 100th birthday – Mayor Skiba had a memorial stone “For peace, liberty and democracy” placed in front of the building, and thus on public ground. It commemorates the millions of victims of National Socialism. The stone originally comes from the former Mauthausen Concentration Camp.

Dealing with it

One is eager to set signals in Braunau. Since 1992, the „Association for Contemporary History“ annually organizes the “Braunau Contemporary History Days”, during which the “unwanted heritage” is being scientifically addressed. And people succeeded in stopping the sale of Hitler memorabilia in several shops.

The “Führer’s” place of birth no longer offers an attraction for diehards. Braunau is on its way of becoming an ordinary town.

Georg Markus / translated by Anna Rosmus

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