A Russian legislator is making waves in Austria with unusual plans for Hitler’s birthplace.
“If I were to receive financial help, I would buy the house and destroy it demonstratively,” said Frantz Klintsevich, a parliament member from Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia Party.
The house, built 500 years ago in the small Austrian town of Braunau am Inn, has sat empty since last year. The building’s top floor was once rented to Klara and Alois Hitler, whose son, Adolf, was born in the apartment in April 1889.
Johannes Waidbacher, Branau’s mayor, sparked a heated controversy in September when he suggested that the building, whose uses in recent decades have included serving as a school, bank and library, should be converted into private luxury apartments.
Opponents called such a move inappropriate, saying it would diminish the site’s historical significance and whitewash the town’s history. Branau’s relationship with Hitler has been a longstanding a source of debate, with critics noting that only last year did it rescind the honorary citizenship it gave to Hitler in 1933.
With the fate of the dictator’s former home still uncertain, Klintsevich emerged last week with a new idea: raising $2.8 million so he can purchase the building and demolish it. The politician is now asking supporters to donate funds, and has reportedly approached several of Russia’s so-called oligarchs for help — apparently without success so far.
Klintsevich’s efforts have received support — verbal if not financial — elsewhere in Russia, with the country’s Communist Party announcing last week that it would join his fundraising campaign. Vadim Solovyov, a member of the party’s State Duma faction, told Russian newspaper Izvestia, “Everything that is connected to fascism should be wiped off the face of the earth. No one should even know that this place ever existed.”
Austrian political parties concerned about Hitler’s legacy have called the idea a mistake. The Greens and Social Democrats argue that the state should purchase the building and convert it into a “House of Responsibility” that would serve as a memorial to the Nazis’ victims.
Some Russians have also disagreed with Klintsevich’s proposal. “Yes, we hated the man who was born there, but this place may have other values — as a monument of architecture or a monument of art or history,” said Eugene Proshechkin, the chairman of the Moscow Anti-Fascist Center.
Proshchekin noted legal obstacles that may stand in the way of the building’s destruction, and said that even if such a plan were allowed, the structure would be better used to house an anti-fascist organization.
In a statement to The Times of Israel, Karl-Heinz Grundbock, a spokesman for Austria’s interior ministry, said he couldn’t comment on Klintsevich’s proposal, noting that the government doesn’t own the building.
The structure belongs to an Austrian woman whose identity hasn’t been made public, but the government has leased it since 1972, “first of all aiming at preventing a questionable use,” Grundbock wrote.
Some locals have feared that the site would become a gathering place for neo-Nazis or other Hitler admirers if it fell into the wrong hands.
Until last year, the building was used as a center for the mentally and physically handicapped, a clear statement about a leader who referred to such people as “useless eaters,” and systematized their murder.
While many Branau residents recognize the building’s significance, others say too much attention is being paid to how it’s used.
“We should not demonize the family nest and make … Braunau the starting point of Nazism,” said Florian Kotanko, the principal of a local high school. “Besides, Adolf lived here not so long — only three months.”