“I hope the day will go by peacefully,” Gerhard Skiba, the mayor of this town where Adolf Hitler was born, said with more than a touch of anxiety last week.
He was worried that neo-Nazis from around the world would gather here Thursday to commemorate the 100th birthday of the Nazi leader.
But although Skiba received death threats and was called a “Jewish pig” in anonymous telephone calls, Braunau escaped the clashes that had been anticipated between neo-Nazis and antifascist demonstrators.
Rome, however, was not as lucky as this Austrian town.
There, on two consecutive days, unknown parties draped huge banners in the center of the city honoring the Nazi leader.
On Thursday, the actual 100th anniversary of Hitler’s birth, police removed an 11-foot-long banner reading “Heil Hitler” from one of Rome’s main thoroughfares. Pro-Nazi graffiti was smeared on some walls.
On Friday, Italian police were called in once again to remove from the Ponte Flaminio, one of the city’s main bridges, a 13-foot-long banner that read “Honor to the Fuhrer.” It was adorned with a big swastika and the dates of Hitler’s birth and death.
VIOLENCE HAD BEEN FEARED
Here in Braunau, April 20 passed better than had been expected.
The local newspaper Rundschau had summed up the situation preceding the anniversary with the headline “Braunauers live in fear.” Shop owners who could not put their faith in the 250 assembled police officers had sealed their windows with wooden boards, in anticipation of violence.
But the day passed relatively quietly. Few devotees of the former fuhrer came to Braunau after all.
Tight controls at the nearby border with West Germany had prevented some from even entering Austria. Only small groups of young men with short haircuts hinting at their political ideology strolled across the town square.
Few aging followers of Hitler who could really remember him even had the chance to catch a glimpse of the house in which their idol was born, barricaded as it was by a police cordon.
Still, a few neo-Nazis raised their hands in the Nazi salute. They were immediately arrested for that display.
Most of them were soon released and forced to leave the country. Among the 30 arrested, only two were Austrians.
Throughout Austria, in fact, the day passed almost unnoticed. Only a few papers ran stories on Hitler’s life, not one of them with anything vaguely positive to say about him. There was no noticeable increase in neo-Nazi activity.
In Braunau, Mayor Skiba had argued in vain two weeks ago in favor of placing a simple plaque on the infamous house. Its current owners, however, persistently refused, saying their house might be damaged by Nazis.
In the end, courage and decency won the day. The newly installed Socialists dared to erect a memorial, right in front of Hitler’s birthplace, on public ground.
It is a huge granite block from the quarry of the former Mauthausen concentration camp, inscribed with the words: “For peace, freedom and democracy. Never again fascism.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.