Tyrants' towns confer on how to handle legacy

Delegates from Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin's birthplaces meet

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The Independent Online

Austria's Braunau am Inn, Italy's Predappio and Gori in Georgia are towns which share the unenviable prospect of being forever linked with the cruellest and most hateful tyrants in modern history: they were the birthplaces of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin.

Yet almost 60 years after the death of the last of the Second World War's trio of murderous dictators, representatives of the three towns will gather in Hitler's birthplace this week in a joint attempt to come to terms with their infamous heritage.

Florian Kotanko, the president of Braunau am Inn's Contemporary History Association, which is organising the event, told The Independent yesterday: "If like me, you live in a town which is synonymous with Hitler, it becomes unbearable. We felt we had to do something about it and for the first time we have persuaded others in a similar position to do something as well."

Mr Kotanko said Braunau had been struggling with its reputation as Hitler's birthplace since the war ended in 1945. In the 1960s, officialdom remained embarrassed by the town's Nazi connections while souvenir sellers offered Nazi memorabilia to tourists.

Today however, the town near Austria's border with Germany claims to have finally faced up to its past. It accepts its reputation as unavoidable and is lobbying for the Austrian government to buy the house at No 15 Salzburger Vorstadt, where the Nazi dictator was born in 1889.

Andreas Maislinger, a veteran Austrian anti-Nazi campaigner, who is backing the project says he plans to rename the building "House of Responsibility" and use it as a venue for meeting and discussions about the Nazi era and contemporary politics.

However, the prospects for Gori and Predappio would seem to be less auspicious. Gori boasts a fully fledged Joseph Stalin museum, with all the trappings of a shrine to the former Soviet dictator, and statues of him. Predappio contains a crypt where Mussolini is buried and his remains are worshipped by neo-fascists.

Gori's Stalin museum is housed in a complex comprising six halls containing many of the communist dictator's personal possessions, including his own 83-tonne railway carriage and 12 copies of his death mask. "The museum contained nothing that was critical of Stalin when I visited in 2003," Mr Kotanko said.

Most controversial of all would appear to be Benito Mussolini's birthplace at Predappio, near Forli in the Emilia-Romagna region. His body lies in a crypt in the town, which contains a bust of the dictator.

Predappio, which was rebuilt during the fascist era, is also referred to as the "City of the Duce". Its left-wing mayor, Giorgio Frassineti, is said to be disconcerted by his town's totalitarian image. Before leaving for this weekend's conference he declared that places where dictators were born should be "on the frontline of democracy".