Austrian govt to seize house where Hitler was born

BERLIN - The Austrian government has moved to seize the house where Adolf Hitler was born, and it may tear it down, in an effort to demystify a site that has become a magnet for neo-Nazis and tourists.

The move on Tuesday comes after decades of hand-wringing over the fate of the property, vacant since tenants left in 2011 after a dispute with the owner, who refused to allow necessary renovations. Last year, the government appointed a historical commission to determine how best to handle it.

The house - in the town of Braunau am Inn, next to the Austrian-German border and about 120km east of Munich - had a tavern on the ground level and apartments on the upper floors, one of which was rented by Hitler's parents before his birth on April 20, 1889.

Fears that the house could become a pilgrimage site led the Austrian government to take over the main lease on the building in 1972, to ensure it would not fall into the hands of someone seeking to glorify its link to a dark history.

It offered to buy the building in 1984 from Ms Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. But for decades, she refused to sell.

Hitler was born in this house in the town of Braunau am Inn, about 120km east of Munich. The Austrian government may want to tear it down, for fear that it could become a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis.
Hitler was born in this house in the town of Braunau am Inn, about 120km east of Munich. The Austrian government may want to tear it down, for fear that it could become a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Only in 2014 did Ms Pommer indicate that a change of hands was possible, but talks collapsed this year, owing to what the Interior Ministry called her "lack of willingness to sell". The Parliament took the first step on Tuesday towards removing the decades-long stain on postwar Austria's image when the home affairs committee submitted a petition to expropriate the building.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka has lobbied for the house to be torn down and replaced with an entirely new structure.

In a statement on Monday, he repeated that wish, citing findings of the historical commission which recommended that "a thorough architectural remodelling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building".

Mr Karl-Heinz Grundbock, a spokesman for Mr Sobotka, said the ministry expected that Parliament would approve the expropriation of the building by the end of the year, and that ownership of the building would then pass to the government.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2016, with the headline 'Austrian govt to seize house where Hitler was born'. Print Edition | Subscribe