Austrians debate what to do with baby Hitler's home

Mon Sep 24, 2012 11:54am EDT
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By Michael Shields

VIENNA (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 organization'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 Braunau, Johannes Waidbacher, caused a stir with a newspaper interview in which he proposed making the house into a standard residence.

"You have to ask in general whether another Holocaust memorial makes sense when there are already many around here," the mayor, born 21 years after the war's end, told Der Standard.

"We are stigmatized 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," he was quoted last week as saying.   Continued...

The house in which Adolf Hitler was born is seen in the northern Austrian city of Braunau am Inn September 24, 2012. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler