Austria is set to end an embarrassing row over the future of Adolf Hitler’s birthplace by turning the provincial town house in which the Nazi leader was born into a “House of Responsibility” dedicated to recalling the crimes against humanity committed during the Third Reich.
The two-storey “Hitler house” is in the centre of Braunau am Inn on Austria’s border with Germany. It has been empty for the past two years, but politicians have argued bitterly about its fate for decades. Critics insisted that demolition was the only way of dispelling the stigma attached to the building.
However, Braunau’s influential town association, which rules on municipal projects, is now due to approve an ambitious scheme to turn the empty ochre-coloured house into a centre dedicated to the memory of Nazi crimes. The project is expected to receive financial backing from Hollywood.
Andreas Maislinger, the Austrian historian behind the “House of Responsibility” project told The Independent: “I have been told by leading Braunau town association members that they will back the scheme. This is a major step towards realising the project.”
Braunau am Inn’s mayor, Johannes Waidbacher, who had earlier provoked outrage with a plan to turn the Hitler house into luxury flats, told Germany’s Bild newspaper that he now approved of Mr Maislinger’s project.
Austria’s Interior Ministry is expected to give its final approval to the “House of Responsibility” later this year. The project is being backed by Branko Lustig, the Hollywood producer of Steven Spielberg’s award-winning Holocaust film Schindler’s List. Mr Lustig was said to have agreed to raise money for the scheme.
Hitler was born in 1889 in what at the time was a public house called the Gasthaus zum Pommer. He spent only the first two weeks of his life there before his parents moved, but the house has served as an embarrassing and unwanted tourist attraction for decades.
During the Third Reich, the building was purchased by the Nazi party and turned into a “cultural centre” and Hitler shrine. Invading US troops managed to prevent fanatical Nazis from blowing up the house in 1945. After the war the building housed first a library, then a school, then a bank and finally a workshop for the disabled.
Despite its various guises, Braunau’s “Hitler house” continued to attract considerable and unwanted tourist interest. Last year the owner of a shop opposite was reported to have become so irritated by tourists’ inquires that he resorted to telling them: “Come back at half past one: he normally looks out of the window around then.”
The “Hitler house” hit the headlines again last year after a Russian MP offered to buy and “demonstratively” demolish the building. Russian politicians were quoted as saying: “No one should even know that that place existed.”
In 2001 Braunau’s city council banned weddings in the town on the date of Hitler’s birthday (20 April) after a leading neo-Nazi announced his intention to marry there on that day. Hundreds of tourists are reported to have cut chunks of plaster off the building and taken them as souvenirs.
Today a stone inscribed with the words “Fascism Never Again” is the only indication that the building was Hitler’s birthplace. Earlier this year neo-Nazis attacked the stone with paint bombs.
“The property will only lose its attraction for right-wing extremists when a clear anti-Nazi message is sent out from the site,” Mr Maislinger said. He said he hoped historical institutes worldwide would use the “House of Responsibility” for just that purpose.
Auschwitz prosecutions bringing guards to justice
Germany’s belated attempt to bring the last surviving Nazi guards at the Auschwitz extermination camp to justice is likely to end in near-total failure with only two out of 30 suspects being prosecuted.
State prosecutors are reported to have dropped proceedings against 28 out of 30 elderly former guards deployed at Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland during the Second World War. Several of the suspects have died and others have been judged too ill or mentally unbalanced to stand trial for being accomplices to mass murder during the Holocaust.
The German agency responsible for tracking down the last Nazi war criminals announced this year that files on nearly three dozen former guards from Auschwitz (pictured) had been passed on to state prosecutors.
However, Der Spiegel magazine reported that prosecutors’ “active” investigations involve only a handful of former guards and that only two are likely to face charges which could result in prosecution.
One of those judged to be too mentally unfit to stand trial is 94-year-old Hans Lipschis, who was said to have herded men, women and children into the gas chambers of the camp.
Another is Gisela S, 91, who is alleged to have beaten Auschwitz inmates. She is said to have been in charge of brutal “standing cells” where prisoners were forced to stand upright for days on end.
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