Two weeks before Austrian authorities commence a much-anticipated renovation of the birth site of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, a local group announced Wednesday that it would like to permanently place at the house a mobile exhibit about non-Jews honored for saving Jews during World War II.
Friends of Yad Vashem in Austria made the announcement in a press conference in the city of Linz, saying it was interested in donating its exhibit about Austria’s Righteous Among the Nations, which has been traveling throughout the country for the past 10 years, Austrian media and Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported.
The local group made the proposal on its own, without coordinating with Israel’s Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust museum and memorial based in Jerusalem.
Following years of legal wrangling, the Austrian government decided to turn the house in the northern Austrian town of Braunau Am Inn, where Hitler was born in 1889, into a police station with a human rights training center. The estate had over the years become a point of interest for neo-Nazis, and the government took control of the dilapidated building in 2016 to change that.
However, Kan quoted local resident Eveline Doll, one of the leaders of the initiative to bring the Yad Vashem exhibit to the building, as saying: “Police is a negative symbol. Of course, the Austrian police today is very different from back then, but the symbolism here is glaring.”
Doll dismissed authorities’ claim that the building would house a human rights center, claiming that it was too small to host such an institution, as well as a police station.
Austria’s Interior Ministry did not respond to a request that it halt the renovation, and suggested that the Holocaust display be exhibited at different police stations. Friends of Yad Vashem in Austria rejected the proposal, Kan reported.
Yad Vashem in Israel said the proposal was the Austrian branch’s initiative and had “good intentions,” but that the Holocaust center in Israel was not involved.
Austria’s Interior Ministry said last month that the house’s redesign will start on October 2.
The plan had already stoked controversy, after Austrian director Guenter Schwaiger, who is due to release a documentary about the house in late August, said the ministry’s plans for the house’s future use will “always be suspected” of being “in line with the dictator’s wishes.”
As evidence, Schwaiger cited the discovery of a local newspaper article from May 10, 1939, which stated that it was Hitler’s wish to have his birth house converted into offices for the district authorities.
The controversial redesign of the 800-square-meter (8,600-square-feet) corner house is currently estimated to cost some 20 million euros ($21.76 million) and is expected to be completed by 2025.
The police station is to become operational by 2026.
Although Hitler only spent a short time at the property, it has continued to draw Nazi sympathizers from around the world.
Germany annexed Austria in 1938, and although many top Nazis from Hitler downward were Austrians, historians say the small Alpine country was slow to acknowledge for many years its shared responsibility for the Holocaust and the other crimes of the Nazis before and during World War II.