Austrians stumped over future of house where Hitler lived

Living space in Braunau is scarce, but an imposing Renaissance-era building stands empty in the Austrian town because of the shadow cast by a former tenant – Adolf Hitler.

With its thick walls, huge arched doorway and deep-set windows, the 500-year-old house near the town square would normally be prime property, but because Hitler was born there it has become a major problem for town fathers forced into deciding what to do with it.

The building was most recently used as a workshop for the mentally handicapped, which some saw as atonement for the murders of tens of thousands of disabled people by the Nazi regime. The workshop moved to more modern quarters last year.

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The town’s mayor Johannes Waidbacher has said he would prefer to create apartments rather than turn the building into an anti-Nazi memorial.

He said: “We are already stigmatised. We, as the town of Braunau, are not ready to assume responsibility for the outbreak of the Second World War.”

His comments sparked a storm of criticism, with Mr Waidbacher accused of trying to bury memories of the Nazi past.

Braunau’s town council only withdrew honorary citizenship from Hitler last year, 78 years after the Nazi dictator was given the accolade – as did nearly a dozen other towns and cities after checking their archives. 
Stung by the criticism, Mr Waidbacher has stepped back, saying he can conceive of “all possible uses” for the building.

Concerns remain about the building’s fate. One major fear is that the house could fill up with Hitler worshippers if is converted into living space.

“These are certainly people we don’t want here,” said town council member Harry Buchmayr, noting that most visitors are not normal tourists but neo-Nazis stopping to pay homage to Hitler, even though he spent only the first few months of his life in the building.

It is unclear who else might want to take up residence.

“I wouldn’t want to live there,” said 19-year-old Susanne Duerr, as she paused with a pushchair to gaze at the building. “I think I would have a bad conscience.”

Austria’s Interior Ministry has rented the house since 1972 from the owner, a woman in her 60s who does not want to be identified. The ministry has been careful to sublet to tenants with no history of Hitler worship.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sonja Jell said the ministry remained “particularly sensitive” about the future uses of the building considering its legacy.

The owner refused a request by Braunau officials to let the city mount a sign on the house warning of the evils of the Nazi past. But an inscription on a chunk of granite on public property near the building calls reads: “Never again fascism, never again war.”

The building has the initials MB in the iron grill above the door. It stands for Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private secretary, who bought the house before the Second World War with thoughts of turning it into a shrine.

Ultimately, it’s the owner who will decide the building’s fate. She is opposed to turning it into a memorial, meaning it still could be converted into flats.