LONDON, March 28 (JTA) — Officials in the Austrian town where Hitler was born want to turn his birthplace into a “center of international understanding.”
Joined by many residents of Braunau am Inn, the officials said their move is prompted by international criticism over the recent inclusion of the xenophobic Freedom Party in Austria’s government.
Residents of the picture-postcard town have debated the fate of the building in which Hitler was born on April 20, 1889, since the end of World War II.
The only current indication that the Nazi leader spent his first two years in an apartment on the first floor of 15 Salzburger Vorstadt is a large stone on the pavement outside.
The stone contains the inscription, “For peace, freedom and democracy. Never again fascism. Millions of dead serve as a warning.”
An attached note indicates that the stone came from the nearby Mauthausen death camp.
From 1939 to 1944, the Nazis used the house as an art gallery, and it has since accommodated a school, a bank and a library. The house currently serves as a workshop for the disabled.
The aim of Braunau’s residents, supported by all of Austria’s political parties, is to demonstrate that Braunau and Austria are prepared to confront their past and participate in the fight against fascism.
Florian Kotanko, principal of Braunau’s main secondary school and initiator of the project, conceded that some villagers are opposed to the plan.
“One person suggested that it should be blown up,” he said, “and a few say it should be left as it is and forgotten about.”
Another hurdle to be overcome is acquiring the property from the family that has owned it since 1920.
Even if the owner agrees to sell, the village will not be able to afford to purchase it without help from the government or the European Union.
There is also concern that the project may backfire because it will emphasize Braunau’s links with Hitler and attract neo-Nazis.
In 1989, a group of neo-Nazis placed flowers outside the building to mark the 100th anniversary of Hitler’s birth, and only last month a bank in Braunau discovered that a right-wing German extremist party had set up an account at its branch. The account was closed.
Compounding the concern over the reputation of the town is the fact that Susanne Reiss-Passer, who recently succeeded Jorg Haider as leader of the Freedom Party, was also born in Braunau.