Outside a rather ordinary house in Braunau, Austria, there is a memorial stone with a curious inscription: “For Peace, Freedom and Democracy/Never Again Fascism/Millions of Dead Warn.”
This stone gives a hint about its role in world history as the birthplace of Adolf Hitler. And after decades spent trying to buy it from the owner, the Austrian government is taking steps to seize it, the New York Times reported.
“We have seen over the past few years that expropriation is the only way to prevent the building from being a draw for pro-Nazi sympathizers,” a government spokesperson told Reuters.
The spot has lured Nazi sympathizers over the years and the government wants to preempt this possibility by giving it another purpose, like some kind of exhibit inside that would promote peace.
According to local media reports, Austria’s Interior Ministry has come out to say that it’s dead-set on preventing Hitler’s birth house from becoming “an affirming memory of National Socialism.” A ministry spokesman, Karl-Heinz Grundböck, said a draft law will head to Parliament this summer to facilitate the seizure and a commission of experts will determine its fate.
“Given the unique nature of the building, its historic significance and the public interest, we’ve decided to begin discussions seeking to lay the legal groundwork for the seizure.”
Trouble is, Hitler’s birth house is in Braunau’s historic city center, so tearing it down is not an option, Deutsche Welle added.
Hitler was born in April, 1889, in an apartment in that building, located above a tavern at the time. In his youth, he left his hometown for Vienna (to fail as an artist) and then Munich. There, he orchestrated a failed coup before rising as the head of the Nazi party and then German chancellor. He committed suicide in 1945 as Allied troops moved in on Berlin.
At the end of World War II, American troops actually saved Hitler’s birth house from destruction. The Nazis tried to destroy it and G.I.’s stopped them.
Over the years, he didn’t seem to care much about his birthplace, concentrating his grandiose plans to collect art and create a huge museum in another city, Linz.
In the late 1930s, a high-ranking Nazi named Martin Bormann bought place and restored it. The Nazis also deemed that Hitler’s birth house be preserved and it became a place of pilgrimage from 1938 to 1945.
However, it was owned by the Pommer family at the time. They had reportedly been the rightful owners since 1912 and in 1952, they bought it back. Descendent Gerlinde Pommer inherited it in 1977 and she’s been the Austrian government’s primary hurdle as they try to stop Hitler’s birth house from becoming a place of pilgrimage once again.
In 1972, the Pommer’s signed a lease with the government to use the building as a center for the disabled. That lease ended in 2011 because Gerlinde refused to renovate the decaying building to accommodate the disabled.
Over the years, she’s also refused buyouts from the interior ministry. The national government and City of Braunau continue to rent the building, to the tune of $5,700 a month. If they seized the building, Pommer would be compensated.
Hitler’s birth house now sits empty, drawing Nazi sympathizers and protesters alike in front of plain edifice.
In the middle of the debate over Hitler’s birth house are the 17,000 residents of Braunau. They are divided on what to do with the place. Some want it to become a refugee center, others a museum about Austria’s liberation, while others want it wiped from the cityscape forever.
The interior ministry hasn’t disclosed any plans. Historians want it to be the site of the exhibit on peace, which would keep any neo-Nazis away.
[Photo by Paul Fievez/Getty Images]