Austria Will Demolish Adolf Hitler's Birthplace


The German leader and architect of genocide was born in 1889 in this building in the Austrian border town Braunau am Inn. Roger-Viollet/Schnrer/Ullstein Bild/Getty Images
The German leader and architect of genocide was born in 1889 in this building in the Austrian border town Braunau am Inn. Roger-Viollet/Schnrer/Ullstein Bild/Getty Images

People make pilgrimages to the birthplaces of important figures. But things get problematic when the historical figure in question isn't someone to celebrate. That's the case with a nondescript building in the small Austrian town of Braunau am Inn, right on the border with Germany. It's where Adolf Hitler, the former Nazi leader and chancellor and führer of Germany, was born on April 20, 1889.

Now, in accordance with the recommendations of an expert panel comprising city officials, historians and the leader of Austria's main Jewish civic organization, Austria plans to demolish the building — or renovate and repurpose it so as to make it unrecognizable.

During World War II, the building bore a large banner proclaiming its identity. These days, though, there's nothing to draw attention to the origins of one of history's most ruthless dictators — a German inscription in stone outside the building reads simply, "For peace, freedom, and democracy, never again fascism, millions of dead are a warning."

That lack of signage hasn't kept neo-Nazis and other extremists from treating the site as something sacred, drawing attention to a history Austria would rather move on from. The BBC took a look at the structure in 2014 when the house's future was still up for debate:

"A new building will be erected," said Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka in an interview with the German-language newspaper Die Presse, according to a Reuters translation. "The house will then be used by the community either for charitable or official purposes."

A spokesperson later clarified that while destruction of the house is ideal, there's a chance the building could be given a completely new façade and interior rather than undergo a full demolition. Sobotka said the goal was to create a new use for the structure — which over the years has served as a private residence and even a day care — rather than choosing to destroy it and leave an empty lot that could be repurposed by people as a memorial site.

Austria has in the past received criticism for not acknowledging its Nazi past to the extent that its German neighbors have. For decades, the country's stance was that it was the first victim of Nazi Germany thanks to the Anschluss annexation of Austria in 1938. It wasn't until a 1991 speech by then-Chancellor Franz Vranitzky that Austria acknowledged its involvement in the suffering and deaths of millions caused by Nazism.

"The wish was to leave this disaster behind and tackle the country's future on a fresh basis. The deep wounds of the past were supposed to heal. I can understand that," Austrian President Heinz Fischer said in 2013 on the 75th anniversary of the annexation. "But only wounds that are cleaned can heal without risk of infection. And the cleaning of this wound was a long time coming."

This image taken by Hitlers official photographer Heinrich Hoffmann depicts Hitler's birthplace in 1938, when a banner and flags marked the spot.
This image taken by Hitlers official photographer Heinrich Hoffmann depicts Hitler's birthplace in 1938, when a banner and flags marked the spot.
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Pictured in 2011, this sign outside the neo-Nazi enclave of Jamel, Germany, points the distance to many locations important to the fascist movement. Hitler's birthplace is marked at a distance of 855 kilometers.
Pictured in 2011, this sign outside the neo-Nazi enclave of Jamel, Germany, points the distance to many locations important to the fascist movement. Hitler's birthplace is marked at a distance of 855 kilometers.
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