|Hitler’s birthplace, a house of understanding
By TOBY HELM
BRAUNAU AM INN
Wednesday 29 March 2000
In Braunau am Inn, a pretty Austrian town with houses painted in pastel yellows, pinks and blues, one unkempt townhouse stands out from the rest.
Since the end of World War II, the people of Braunau have argued about what to do with the building in which Adolf Hitler was born on 20 April 1889.
The Nazis used it as an art gallery from 1939 to 1944. It has since served as a school, a bank and a library and is currently a workshop for disabled people.
Now, with the backing of all Austria’s political parties, the civic authorities have decided to turn the Hitler house into “a centre of international understanding”.
“We need to send a signal for Austria, for Europe and for the world,” said Ms Daniela Raschhofer, one of the Freedom Party’s five Euro-MPs who was born in Braunau and now represents the town. “We must have a centre that people can visit to draw lessons from the past and help build a future in which everyone respects human rights.”
The three floors – Hitler’s family rented a flat on the first floor until he was two – will deal with the past, present and future.
Despite such grandiose intentions, there are still plenty of arguments ahead. Mr Florian Kotanko, the headmaster of Braunau’s main secondary school and a force behind the project, admitted that some townspeople were opposed.
And negotiations to buy the house from the family that has owned it since 1920 are at an early stage. Even if the owner agrees, the town cannot afford to buy the house without help from the Government or the European Union.
There are fears too that the project may backfire, drawing attention to Braunau’s link with Hitler and encouraging neo-Nazis.
In 1989, a group of neo-Nazis placed flowers outside the house on the centenary of Hitler’s birth and scuffled with police. Police vigilance kept neo-Nazis away until last month when fears of a revival of neo-Nazi interest were rekindled after a bank in Braunau discovered that the Right-wing German extremist NPD party had set up an account at its branch. The account was closed.
The fact that the Freedom Party’s new leader, Ms Susanne Riess-Passer, was also born in the town has compounded worries that outsiders will view it as a hotbed of right-wing nationalism. But Braunau’s Socialist Democratic Party Mayor, Mr Gerhard Skiba, is confident that the project will benefit Austria and the town. TELEGRAPH