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Austrians debate what to do with baby Hitler's home

posted 13 Nov 2012, 06:35 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 13 Nov 2012, 06:35 ]

The town where Hitler was born debates what to do with the house the Nazi leader lived in for the first three years of his life.

 BRAUNAUAUSTRIA (NOVEMBER 12, 2012) (REUTERS) -  A suggestion to turn the Austrian house where Adolf Hitler was born into normal residential space has triggered a debate about how best to use an empty property still packed with historic baggage decades after World War Two ended.

The man who became Nazi dictator was born in the house in Braunau on the Inn, a town near Salzburg on the German border, in April 1889. His family lived there only three years, but his link to the three-storey building has left an indelible mark.

A retired local woman now owns the property, which Austria's federal interior ministry has been renting since 1972 and has sublet to Braunau.

According to media accounts, the building - an inn when Hitler's family rented space there - has housed a library, a bank, classrooms and most recently a charitable organisation's workshop for handicapped people, which moved out a year ago.

The question of what to do with it now is exposing splits between those who want to highlight its past and those who want to turn the page on an inglorious chapter of local history.

The mayor of BraunauJohannes Waidbacher, caused a stir with a newspaper interview in which he proposed making the house into a standard residence.

In an interview with a local newspaper, Waidbacher was quoted as saying "We are stigmatised anyway. Hitler spent the first three years of his life in the city, and it was certainly not the most formative phase of his life. We as the city of Braunau are thus not prepared to take responsibility for the outbreak of World War Two."

Speaking to Reuters from his office, Waidbacher said the situation was difficult and not yet resolved.

"The situation is this: the house is privately owned and has been rented by the Interior Ministry, so byAustria, for many years, as a result of this the situation is not so easy. As for the latest suggestion (to turn the Austrian house where Adolf Hitler was born into normal residential space) I do not have any specific information on it yet and would therefore not like to comment,"

"I really couldn't give an estimate of the time frame because there are so many factors to consider. We have very little space to manoeuvre within and so it is very difficult to envisage a time frame. But at the proper time we will come forward with a solution that will hopefully satisfy all sides," he added.

An interior ministry spokesman said no decisions had been made yet, adding the most important thing was preventing neo-Nazi "mischief" from going on there. He said there were no plans to let the property be used as a residence.

The owner's identity has not been published.

Andreas Maislinger, a local historian and political scientist, has lobbied for years to turn the property into a state-owned "house of responsibility" that would serve as an international meeting place for young people.

A move that would be welcomed by some Braunau residents.

"It's a difficult question. I mean, Hitler is always a sensitive topic. A museum or something, perhaps open it up to young people and provide a good example," Braunau resident Andreas Buder said.

"I think it should be left as it is. I don't know why it should be sold to a Russian only for it to be torn down. One should face history," another resident Herta Stempfer said, referring to media rumours a Russian is planning to buy the property.

Another resident is convinced the house will not be sold.

"I don't think - and I have spoken to her about it - that she will sell. More likely the house will be made available to someone to put private flats in, but sell? I don't think she will. She couldn't spend the money in her lifetime, it's crazy," resident Erika Moser said.

Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, and a debate still smoulders on whether Austrians were Hitler's first victims or willing accomplices.