Jewish supremacists can’t conceive why the Austrian government would decide against demolishing the building where Adolf Hitler was born on April 20, 1889, in Braunau am Inn.
“That (the government) would even do that is surprising. (The building) is not even worthy of that recognition, not even worthy of talking about,” said Benlolo, the president of Canada’s Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“I would erase that building from existence, just like Hitler should be erased and everything he stood for.” Instead, the Ministry of Interiors is hosting an architectural competition to redesign the building located at Salzburger Vorstadt 15.
On the other hand, local historian Florian Kotanko — who is from Braunau — doesn’t agree that the building should be demolished.
“(Braunau) was not the place for decisions for murder or war. It was the place where a baby was born. He was not a murderer when his mother gave him birth,” Kotanko said.
For years, the ministry grappled with what to do with the yellow, three-storey structure in the tiny border town on the banks of the River Inn that divides Germany and Austria.
"Should it be demolished? Should it be renovated? Should it be turned into a Holocaust museum?"
It took two government-mandated commissions to determine how the state ought to proceed with handling the privately owned building that had ties to Adolf Hitler.
Since the Lebenshilfe — a charity organization that assists people with disabilities — vacated the building in 2011, the government had been paying rent to the owner. In fact, the state had been paying rent to the Pommer family since 1972, when a school occupied the site for five years. The school left in 1977 but the rental agreement lived on.
Fearing the building might become a "shrine or a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis", the government paid Gerlinde Pommer nearly 5,000 euros each month so that she would not rent the space to “inappropriate” groups, Kotanko said.
As payments continued month after month, so did the media and public’s questions as to why the government was allocating public money for an empty space.
In 2016, the first commission recommended that the government urge Pommer to make necessary renovations to the building so that it could be used for a public service. It determined the last measure the government should take would be to expropriate the building.
The ministry opted for the latter, Kotanko said.
The second commission came to the conclusion that the building should not be torn down because it would be a denial of Austria’s past.
“The use … must be aimed at breaking the symbolism of the place by giving it the (opposite association),” Die Presse reported in 2016.
And so, it recommended the best option would be to give the building a “life-affirming purpose.” There were talks about allowing the Lebenshilfe to continue its operations there.
“It will be used for people who, frankly, under the Nazi regime would have been killed,” Kotanko said.
While Benlolo wants the building torn down, he said the next best option would be to turn it into something like the "Topography of Terror", a Berlin museum that was once headquarters for the SS.
“I would turn that building into a very, very (specific) educational facility to document how someone could rise (up) from being a nobody.”
Kotanko on the other hand doesn’t entirely agree. “Hitler was born here. It’s not the place where decisions were made.” He expanded, saying the Hitler family only spent one year in the building before moving two more times around Braunau. After three years, Hitler’s father moved the family to Passau.
After Hitler’s parents Alois and Klara left the building with young Adolf and his two, older half-siblings Angela and Alois Jr, the owners still rented units. Come 1938, when Germany annexed Austria, the government at the time refurbished the building into an art gallery on the upper floors and a public library on the bottom floor.
Hitler’s love for Braunau and his birth home paled in comparison to other cities he spent his formative years. When he visited the city after the Anschluss Hitler asked his driver to take him to Salzburger Vorstadt 15 for a brief moment before circling back to Linz.
After the Allies occupied Austria, the building had various uses. It remained a public library for a couple decades and at one point a bank took up occupancy before the school, and eventually, the Lebenshilfe did.
After a long series of legal battles over compensation, the country’s highest court on June 25 overruled an earlier decision that the government should pay an equivalent of $2.2 million to the building owner Pommer. The new price, Austria’s Supreme Court determined, was $1.1 million (812,000 euros).