Austria may seize Hitler home to keep out neo-Nazis

Adolf Hitler's birth house in Braunau am Inn, Austria. Picture: AP
Adolf Hitler's birth house in Braunau am Inn, Austria. Picture: AP
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THE AUSTRIAN government is looking at options that would allow it to expropriate the house where Adolf Hitler spent his early childhood as it seeks to end a dispute with the owner over its use.

The move is the latest effort by the government to ensure that the house is not turned to a use that makes it even more of a shrine for Hitler’s admirers.

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Municipal officials in Braunau, where the house stands, already complain that it draws neo-Nazi visitors to the town on the border with Germany.

Reacting to reports in local media, interior ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck said his ministry expects expert opinions by the end of the month on expropriation if the owner – a woman that authorities refuse to identify – turns down a government offer to buy it. She reportedly has turned down past offers.

The interior ministry has rented the house for years to prevent its misuse, subletting it to charitable organisations. The building has stood empty since a workshop for the mentally disabled moved out more than three years ago.

Local officials say that the woman vetoed plans to move in a new charity and a school late last year because she was 
opposed to renovations that would be required.

“We’ve tried very hard to find a solution,” alderman Harry Buchmayer told the Kurier newspaper. “But she does not seem ready to co-operate.”

Mr Grundboeck described 
expropriation as the “last option”, saying the government hoped the owner would agree to sell. She has reportedly turned down past offers.

Among prospective buyers over the past few years was a Russian parliamentarian who threatened to raze it – a plan doomed to fail, as the Renaissance-era building is under historical protection.

Braunau is known worldwide for being the birthplace of Adolf Hitler. The house was purchased for the Nazi Party by Hitler’s personal secretary Martin Bormann in 1938 and turned into a cult centre containing an art gallery and a public library.

Occupied by US troops at the end of the Second World War, the building temporarily housed a documentary exhibition on Nazi concentration camps. In 1952 it was restored to its original owners and thereafter used as a city library, technical college and a daycare centre for disabled persons. Since 2011 the house has been vacant. In 2014, the Austrian ministry decided to turn the property into a “House of Responsibility” – a museum dedicated to Hitler’s crimes.

In 1989, the then Braunau mayor Gerhard Skiba had a memorial stone placed in front of the building commemorating the victims of the Second World War and made of granite from the quarry at the Mauthausen concentration camp.

It states “Für Frieden, Freiheit und Demokratie. Nie wieder Faschismus. Millionen Tote mahnen” (“For peace, freedom and democracy; never again fascism: millions of dead remind us”), also meant as a dissociation with any kind of “Hitler tourism”.