Austria Moves to Seize House Where Hitler Was Born, Wall Street Journal

08.07.2016

Projekt Beschreibung

Austria Moves to Seize House Where Hitler Was Born BRAUNAU AM INN, Austria—Next to a Thai restaurant and a supermarket parking lot sits a three-story, yellow house the government describes as freighted with so much “special, global, and state policy significance” that it must be taken from the elderly woman who owns it. It is the house where Adolf Hitler was born. The proposed expropriation is only a first step in deciding what to do with the empty building, which the government fears could become a neo-Nazi pilgrimage site. But the legal action already is causing a stir, with some politicians and neighbors decrying it as an attack on property rights. “It is the worst and the last choice,” said Harry Buchmayr, the area’s representative in parliament. “But there are simply circumstances in which it becomes necessary.” These circumstances have to do with Austria’s constitutional obligation to prevent any recurrence of Nazism, and with the owner, Gerlinde Pommer, whose plans are a mystery to officials and locals. The government has been renting the house in Braunau am Inn, a border town about 80 miles east of Munich, from the Pommers since 1972 so as to control its use. In 2011, the tenant, a charity for the mentally disabled, moved out because Ms. Pommer blocked renovations to make it handicapped-accessible, according to local and federal officials. On Christmas Eve 2014, Ms. Pommer sought to cancel the government’s lease, which charged more than $5,000 a month rent, according to an Interior Ministry document seen by The Wall Street Journal. Government officials determined the move was invalid, but grew worried about her intentions. The Interior Ministry offered to buy the house, but Ms. Pommer didn’t respond. The Interior Ministry said the case met Austria’s constitutional standard for the use of eminent domain. But because it is to be seized for its historical significance, rather than, say, to build a road, government lawyers determined special legislation was necessary. That sparked criticism that the state might in the future seize property for political reasons. RELATED READING Right-Wing Freedom Party Challenges Presidential Election Results Book Review: Finishing the War Travel: A ‘Sound of Music’ Bike Tour “This expropriation could become a precedent,” said Christian Schilcher, a Braunau vice mayor for the nationalist Freedom Party who opposes the federal government’s plan. The bill submitted in May to parliament specifies that it “only applies to one single property” because “in Austria only one such property exists.” “The unique characteristic of the property at Salzburger Vorstadt 15 results from the well-known fact that the birth of Hitler took place in this house,” it explains. A ministry official said the bill, which includes compensation, should come to a vote by the end of the year. If it passes, Ms. Pommer could appeal to the Constitutional Court, but the ministry has heard nothing from her since the bill was made public, the official said. Efforts to reach Ms. Pommer, said to be in her mid-60s, through lawyers, acquaintances, and a visit to her Braunau home—where the front-door mail slot is taped shut—were unsuccessful. Florian Kotanko, a former Braunau school director who has chronicled the history of the house, said Ms. Pommer has rejected his every attempt to discuss the house. Other acquaintances of hers, he said, told him that she believes “one doesn’t simply give away one’s property.” Hitler’s parents came to Braunau because of his father’s work as a customs official, and left three years after he was born in April 1889. In 1938, Hitler’s personal secretary Martin Bormann bought the house from Ms. Pommer’s grandparents and turned it into a public library, or “Volksbücherei”—an inscription that still adorns the house just outside the old town walls. In the last days of World War II, U.S. troops stopped German soldiers from demolishing the house. Under U.S. oversight, it hosted an exhibition about the concentration camps, according to Mr. Kotanko’s research. Ms. Pommer’s mother bought the house back from the Austrian government in 1954. A longtime neighbor, Rotraud Steiger, said that as late as the 1970s, she would wake up to piles of flowers outside on Hitler’s birthday. Now, she sometimes goes weeks without a tourist asking where to find Hitler’s house—reason enough, she said, for the government not to seize it. “We live in Austria—not in Russia, not in a dictatorship,” Ms. Steiger said. A seizure would end the ownership debate, but leave unresolved what to do with it. An Austrian political scientist, Andreas Maislinger, wants to turn it into a “House of Responsibility” that would attract scholars from around the world. Mr. Schilcher has proposed converting it to a maternity hospital, while district head Georg Wojak wants it to house refugees. Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka told Austrian television that demolishing the house would be “the cleanest solution.” An aide said this was Mr. Sobotka’s opinion and that he would await the recommendations of an expert commission. “This house gets far too much credit,” Mr. Wojak said. “Hitler only filled his diapers in this house, not the battlefields with millions of dead.” Corrections & Amplifications: A bill to seize a house belonging to Gerlinde Pommer was submitted to the Austrian parliament in May. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated it was last month. (July 8, 2016)

Projekt Details

  • Datum 14. Juli 2016
  • Tags Pressearchiv 2016

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