Fearing it could become a neo-Nazi shrine or place of pilgramage, the Austrian government for years has been maneuvering to keep Hitler’s birth home in the town of Braunau am Inn from falling into the wrong hands. Since 1972, Austria has been paying a woman named Gerlinde Pommer, the house’s rightful owner who has refused to sell it, about $5,000 a month to make sure the building, which has been empty for half a decade, doesn’t take on some form of nostalgia for Hitler, as it was during Nazi rule.
This week, the government passed a law allowing its seizure, reported the BBC, but it remains unclear what will actually happen to the building: Will it be razed or turned, yet again, into something useful, like a museum or school?
For many years, the government paid Mrs Pommer a generous rent in an attempt to prevent the three-story building being used as a site for neo-Nazi tourism. In the past it was used by a local charity as a day centre and workshop for people with special needs. But the charity was forced to move out several years ago when Mrs Pommer blocked renovations…
Some people, including Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka, have said they want it to be knocked down. A panel of historians, who have been asked to advise on the matter, say that would be tantamount to denying Austria’s Nazi past. A number of cultural organizations have stressed that the building is part of the historic city centre and therefore under heritage protection.
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.