A memorial is seen in front of Adolf Hitler's birth house that reads: For peace, freedom and democracy. Never again fascism. Millions of dead remind us

Living space in Braunau is scarce, but an imposing Renaissance-era building  stands empty in this post-card pretty Austrian town because of the sinister  shadow cast by a former tenant: Adolf  Hitler.

With its thick walls, huge arched doorway and deep-set windows, the  500-year-old house near the town square would normally be prime property.  Because Hitler was born here, it has become a huge headache for town fathers  forced into deciding what to do with a landmark so intimately linked to  evil.

The building was most recently used as a workshop for the mentally  handicapped, which some saw as atonement for the murders of tens of thousands of  disabled people by the Nazi regime. But that tenant moved out last year for more  modern quarters.

The departure reignited debate on what to do with the house that burst from  the town hall chamber into the public domain last week after the mayor declared  that he preferred creating apartments over turning the building into an  anti-Nazi memorial.

The imposing Renaissance-era building near Braunau’s town square is one of the few remaining structures directly linked to Hitler YM”S

“We are already stigmatized,” Johannes Waidbacher told the Austrian daily  Der Standard. “We, as the town of Braunau, are not ready to assume  responsibility for the outbreak of World War II.”

That sparked a storm of criticism, with Waidbacher accused of trying to bury  memories of the Nazi past.

The comments were particularly ill-received due to the fact that Braunau’s  town council only withdrew honorary citizenship from Hitler last year, 78 years  after the Nazi dictator was given the accolade – as did nearly a dozen other  towns and cities after checking their archives.

Stung by the criticism, Waidbacher has since stepped back, saying he can  conceive of “all possible uses” for the building.

On Thursday, Waidbacher expressed surprise at the vehement reaction his  comments caused, saying he did not mean to make light of the significance of the  house. “Our town has definitely done its homework as far as its past is  concerned,” he told The Associated Press.

Nonetheless, concerns about the building’s fate continue to reverberate on  the ancient cobble-stoned streets of this town of 16,600.

One major fear: The house could fill up with Hitler worshippers if converted  into living space.

A memorial is seen in front of Adolf Hitler’s birth house that reads: For peace, freedom and democracy. Never again fascism. Millions of dead remind us

“These are certainly people we don’t want here,” said town council member  Harry Buchmayr, noting that most visitors are not normal tourists but neo-Nazis  stopping to pay homage to Hitler, even though he spent only the first few months  of his life in the building.

And it’s unclear who else might want to take up residence in the house.

“I wouldn’t want to live there,” said 19-year-old Susanne Duerr, as she  paused from pushing her baby carriage to gaze at the yellow stucco building. “I  think I would have a bad conscience.”

Other townsfolk old enough to remember the Fuehrer echo that sentiment.  Georg Hoedl, 88, recalls Hitler as the man who dragged depression-era Austria  and Germany out of the kind of abject poverty that forced him to go begging. But  he also is aware of the evil Hitler spawned.

“There should be something else inside, something cultural. But apartments – I’m not for that,” he said

Wife Erika, 73, says that bearing the burden of the house’s legacy “wouldn’t  be pleasant for the tenants – once they moved in they would be asked about this  all the time.”

Austria’s Interior Ministry has rented the house since 1972 from the owner,  a woman in her 60s who refuses to be identified publicly. The ministry has been  careful to sublet only to tenants with no history of admiring Hitler. Asked  about the debate, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sonja Jell said the ministry  remained “particularly sensitive” about the future uses of the building  considering its legacy.

Hitler YM”S at his desk in the Brown House, the headquarters of the Nazi Party in Munich, in 1925.

The owner refused a request by Braunau officials to let the city mount a  sign on the house warning of the evils of the Nazi past. But an inscription on a  chunk of granite on public property near the building calls out to passersby:  “Never again fascism, never again war.”

The building still has the initials MB in the iron grillwork above the  massive wooden doorway. It stands for Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private  secretary, who bought the house shortly before World War II with thoughts of  turning it into a shrine to the dictator.

The house is one of the few remaining structures directly linked to  Hitler.

A house in nearby Leonding where he spent some teenage years is now used to  store coffins for the town cemetery. At that graveyard, the tombstone marking  the grave of Adolf Hitler’s parents, a place of pilgrimage for neo-Nazis, was  removed last year at the request of a descendant. A school Hitler attended in  Fischlham, also near Braunau, displays a plaque condemning his crimes against  humanity.

The underground bunker in Berlin where Hitler committed suicide on April 30,  1945, was demolished after the war. It was left vacant until the East German  government built an apartment complex around the site in the late 1980s. The  apartments, which are still occupied, overlook the German capital’s monument to  victims of the Holocaust.

Ultimately, it’s the owner who will decide the Branau building’s fate. She’s  known to be opposed to turning it into a Holocaust memorial, meaning there’s  still a chance it could be converted into apartments.

That’s a nightmare scenario for Buchmayr, a member of Austria’s Socialist  Party that has done much over the past four decades to sensitize citizens to  their country’s Nazi past.

“You can’t simply wish it away,” Buchmayr said of the house. “Unfortunately  we have it here.

“Hitler was born here.”



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