Austria to use Hitler birth home as charity headquarters
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Austria to use Hitler birth home as charity headquarters

After MPs vote to expropriate house, local official says it will be offered to agency working with disabled people

Anti-Nazi protesters gather outside the house where Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau Am Inn, Austria, on April 18, 2015. (AFP/Joe Klamar)
Anti-Nazi protesters gather outside the house where Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau Am Inn, Austria, on April 18, 2015. (AFP/Joe Klamar)

VIENNA, Austria — Austrian government officials have decided to transform the home where Adolf Hitler was born into a base for a charity, not tear down the property as some demanded.

Thursday’s decision came a day after lawmakers overwhelmingly approved an Interior Ministry bill to dispossess the owner, who had refused to sell the empty building in Braunau am Inn, a town on Austria’s border with Germany.

Provincial governor Josef Puehringer said destroying the yellow corner house at Number 15 Salzburger Vorstadt Street, located right in Braunau’s historic center, would have fueled accusations of “tearing down a piece of burdensome history.”

Instead, officials want to remodel the property’s facade to eliminate its draw as a shrine for admirers of the Nazi dictator, who was born in the house in 1889.

Adolf Hitler with Hermann Göring on balcony of the Chancellery, Berlin, March 16, 1938 (Bundesarchiv, Bild/Wikipedia)
Adolf Hitler with Hermann Göring on balcony of the Chancellery, Berlin, March 16, 1938 (Bundesarchiv, Bild/Wikipedia)

Puehringer said the house will be offered to an agency running a workshop for disabled people.

Austrian MPs voted late Wednesday to expropriate the house, ending years of bitter legal wrangling with the current owner.

A large majority approved the new law, which was submitted by the government earlier this year in a bid to stop the dilapidated house from becoming a neo-Nazi shrine.

Local resident Gerlinde Pommer — who has been renting the premises to the Austrian state since 1972 — will receive compensation under the legislation.

In October, Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka announced it would be “torn down” to make place for a new building to be used by a charity.

He said the decision was based on recommendations from an expert committee.

But several of the 13-member panel were quick to deny that the commission had backed Sobotka’s push to bulldoze the place where Hitler was born on April 20, 1889.

“A demolition would amount to negating Austria’s Nazi past,” the experts said in a joint statement in October.

Although Hitler only spent the first few weeks of his life there, the address has been a thorn in Austria’s side for decades, drawing Nazi sympathizers from around the world.

Memorial stone outside of Adolf Hitler's birthplace in Braunau am Inn, Austria. (CC BY-SA, Anton Kurt, Wikipedia)
Memorial stone outside of Adolf Hitler’s birthplace in Braunau am Inn, Austria. (CC BY-SA, Anton Kurt, Wikipedia)

Every year on Hitler’s birthday, anti-fascist protesters organize a rally outside the building, next to a memorial stone reading: “For Peace, Freedom and Democracy. Never Again Fascism, Millions of Dead Warn.”

The property has been empty since 2011 when Austria became embroiled in a dispute with Pommer, whose family has owned the 800-square-meter (8,600-feet) building for nearly a century.

Since the early 1970s, the government had been renting the premises for around 4,800 euros ($5,000) a month and used it as a center for people with disabilities.

But the arrangement came to an abrupt end five years ago when Pommer refused to allow much-needed renovation works.

The famously elusive owner also rejected a purchase offer made by the increasingly exasperated interior ministry.

The issue has also sparked debate among Braunau’s 17,000 residents. Some wanted the building to become a refugee center, others a museum dedicated to Austria’s liberation from Nazi rule.

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