The mayor of Braunau am Inn, Hitler’s birthplace, has triggered debate by proposing that the vacant ‘Hitler House’ simply be converted into flats.
Johannes Waidbacher’s suggestion for the property in the small Ranshofen area of Braunau am Inn has put an unwelcome spotlight back on the Austrian town, which is desparate to avoid it becoming a shrine to history’s most reviled figure. The debate on it’s future is split between those who want a memorial to warn against the deeds of its infamous tenant, and those who want to discard the historical baggage.
Mayor Waidbacher told Der Standard that the town’s connection with Hitler was “very, very much” buried in history and therefore they “shouldn’t necessarily do anything” with the house. He said, “You have to question the sense of yet another Holocaust memorial in this area. Many here are asking themselves why should they take personal responsibility for what happened so long ago… I, for example, was born 21 years after the war ended, and it’s the same for many people in Braunau. We are already stigmatized because Hitler spent the first three years of his life here. It was certainly not the most formative period of his life, so the residents of Braunau are not willing to take responsibility for…the Second World War.”
Mayor Waidbacher wants the house to have a conventional use, and believes that the building would be best suited to conversion into apartments. However, local historian and political scientist Andreas Maislinger has long lobbied for the property to become a “house of responsibility”, that would serve as an international meeting place for young people concerned with social projects and human rights. “Thus the small city of Braunau would become a place of international understanding,” he suggested. “Braunau is a symbol because Adolf Hitler was born there, and the fact that this house has a certain symbolic significance means you have to handle it properly.”
Hitler was born in a room on the first floor of the 3-storey house on 20 April 1889, when it was known as the Gasthof zum Pommer (after the Pommer family, which still owns it today). He was the fourth of six children, but his older siblings all died in infancy. His father Alois, a local customs official, and mother Klara rented rooms above the inn until 1892, when they moved over the border to Passau, Germany. It is said that Alois often binged on the beer on sale in the saloon downstairs before returning to the family home to abuse his timid wife who was 24 years his junior.
When Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, the Nazi party bought the house and declared it a national monument. As a cultural centre which displayed Nazi-approved art, it became a place of pilgrimage for the party faithful during the Third Reich and the street on which it stood was renamed Adolf-Hitler-Strasse.
It was returned to the Pommer family in 1952 and served variously as the town’s public library, a school, a bank, a technical institute and finally a home for the mentally and physically disabled: the sort of people Hitler deemed “useless eaters” and the first to die in the Third Reich’s secret euthanasia campaign before WW2.
Nothing remains inside the building to indicate its link with Hitler. The outside of the building is also unmarked, except for a large granite stone from the quarry at the Mauthausen concentration camp, placed on the street corner in 1989, the 100th anniversary of Hitler’s birth. The English translation of the stone’s inscription reads: “For peace, freedom and democracy, Fascism never again, millions of dead a warning.”
The final decision on the house’s future rests with Austria’s federal interior ministry and the current owner, Gelinde Pommer, who has been renting the property out to the ministry since 1972 but now wants to sell. A spokesman for the ministry said no decisions had been made yet, but the priority was to prevent any neo-Nazi “mischief” from going on there.