The home where Adolf Hitler was born has been the subject of a long legal battle which was finally resolved this month as the Austrian Supreme Court has weighed in with its decision in the case.
At the center of the disagreement was an apartment building in Braunau am Inn. Hitler was born in an apartment in that building in 1889. When he led the Nazis to take control of Austria, he had the Nazi party purchase the building and turn it into a fascist propaganda center.
When the war ended, the building was returned to its former owners. It became, in succession, a library, a technical school, and a care facility for the disabled.
The building was left derelict for five years when the Austrian Parliament passed a resolution to requisition the property. The intent was to make the site unrecognizable as a landmark in Hitler’s life in order to end the steady stream of Neo-Nazis that visited the site.
But after taking control of the property in 2016, the government had to wait through the legal process before getting a clear legal right to proceed with their plans.
The owner, Gerlinde Pommer, was originally offered 310,000 euros for the property. Pommer, who’s family has owned the building for almost one hundred years, went to court in Ried and received a ruling from that said that Pommer should have been paid 1.5 million euros.
The Regional Court of Linz overturned that ruling which led to the appeal to the Supreme Court. The court upheld the Linz rulling. A court-appointed expert determined that the market price for the property, excluding rental income, is 810,000 euros. This means that Pommer will receive more than she had originally been offered but less than she was seeking.
The Austrian government is already at work making plans for what they will do with the property. Current plans are to either tear the building completely down or remodel it to the point that it is no longer recognizable as Hitler’s birthplace. There are plans underway to hold an architectural competition to find the best plans for remodeling the building.
The government’s intent is to “prevent any renewed form of National Socialist activities.”
In February of 2017, a man was arrested after arriving at the house wearing a Hitler costume. Others have been found scraping stucco off of the walls to keep as a souvenir. Every year the locals plan anti-racism rallies to counter the extremists rallies on Hitler’s birthday.
The Austrian government was prepared to demolish the house and eliminate the possibility of anyone making a shrine of it.
But locals claim that demolishing the house won’t stop the Hitler sympathizers from coming around. When the gravestones of Hitler’s parents were removed from an Austrian graveyard, Neo-Nazis continued to bring flowers and candles to the spot where the headstones used to be.
Florian Kotanko, the head of the historical society in Braunau, says that you cannot get rid of the past by getting rid of a building or a statue. Instead, he says that it is better to be transparent and to provide facts and information. In that way you can change people’s minds. He claims this is the best way for all controversial monuments including the house in Braunau and the Confederate statues in the US.
“…Give as much information as possible,” he says. “…People will start thinking… and re-thinking some of their prejudices.”
For now, the house has a large rock placed in front of it. It is placed so that it is not possible to take a picture of the house without including the rock in the frame. The stone comes from the Mauthausen concentration camp. It is inscribed with a memorial to the millions of people killed in the Holocaust.
Maybe that’s what is needed. Not to remove what we find distasteful but to use it to remind ourselves why we never want to go down that path again.
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