How can Hitler’s birthplace in Braunau be demystified? In his guest commentary in profil of June 13, 2016, political scientist Andreas Maislinger, on the occasion of the announced expropriation of the house, suggests that the “House of Responsibility” project would offer an opportunity to do so.

profile No. 24 – June 13, 2016
Guest commentary
Andreas Maislinger

The house of evil
How can Hitler’s birthplace in Braunau be demystified?

Hermann Feiner is a name to remember. Thanks to the calm persistence of the responsible section chief in the Ministry of the Interior, something is finally moving. The Hitler birthplace in Braunau am Inn is to be expropriated by a separate law. It is striking that the purpose of expropriation is described exclusively in negative terms. Apparently, this is intended to ensure the widest possible discretionary scope for the decision on the further fate of the property. However, if the Hitler birthplace is used again after expropriation in a similar way as it was until Lebenshilfe moved out five years ago, as suggested by a member of parliament from Braunau, the requirement set out in the explanatory notes to § 2 is not fulfilled: “In particular, care must be taken to deconstruct and demystify the special aura of this location. An encouragement of further association with the person of Hitler or identification with the ideology of National Socialism in any form, such as through a permanently emphasized connection with the person of Hitler, must not take place.”

A repeatedly desired “normal” use cannot deconstruct and demystify this “special aura” as required. If this could be achieved, for example, by the planned move-in of the Volkshochschule or Volkshilfe, it should also have been achieved by the use by Braunau schools and Lebenshilfe from 1945 to 2011. For decades, the Hitler birthplace was used by educational and social institutions, but the “special aura” mentioned was not lost. On the contrary! The attraction for neo-Nazis seems to have increased even more. If this were not so, the Republic of Austria would now also not set a reason for this hard step of expropriation.

Adolf Hitler was born just over 127 years ago in Braunau am Inn. And although his parents moved away shortly after his birth and Hitler later showed no particular interest in the town of his birth, the small Innviertel town has the stigma of being the birthplace of one of the greatest criminals in human history. Yet 16 years ago, the town of Braunau am Inn surprised everyone with its initiative “Braunau sets an example”. Inspired by the then editor-in-chief of the Braunauer Rundschau, Reinhold Klika, the mayor of Braunau, the chairman of the Verein für Zeitgeschichte (Association for Contemporary History) and the chairmen of all the parties represented in the municipal council – SPÖ, FPÖ, FMU (later the Greens) and ÖVP – signed a remarkable appeal on February 7, 2000. Three days after the inauguration of the controversial ÖVP-FPÖ government of Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel and Vice Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer, who was born in Braunau am Inn, the city of Braunau am Inn had unanimously declared that it would make the birthplace of Adolf Hitler an “international site of encounter and reconciliation” after Lebenshilfe had moved out.

After this appeal attracted positive attention worldwide and received more than 2,000 additional signatures, it was clear to everyone for more than a decade that after the erection of the memorial stone in 1989, the founding of the Braunau Contemporary History Days in 1992, the laying of the Stolpersteine in 2006 and the opening of the Jägerstätter Park in 2007, the city of Braunau am Inn would set another, even stronger sign with the House of Responsibility. Braunau am Inn is not a place of perpetrators or victims like Obersalzberg, Berlin, Mauthausen or Auschwitz. In the birthplace of Adolf Hitler, the National Socialists neither planned nor carried out crimes. Braunau am Inn, however, is considered by many people to be the birthplace of evil. And this is precisely the special problem, for the management of which, in contrast to the places of victims and perpetrators, there is still no model. What do you do with a house in a small town that is less about coming to terms with crimes and remembering inconceivable suffering than about dealing with a myth? For a long time, I didn’t want to believe it and fiercely resisted accepting this assumption, but Braunau am Inn is indeed for many people a non-place that you don’t want to enter.

How could the house and thus the whole city lose this “special aura”? It must be clearly defined! And this is exactly where the project “House of Responsibility” comes in. With the principle of responsibility of the Jewish philosopher Hans Jonas, a kind of “re-polarization” of the “Hitler House” takes place. Adolf Hitler destroyed many millions of human lives, Hans Jonas is concerned with the preservation of human life for future generations. And since it is about the future, the house should be left to young people from all over the world.
Andreas Maislinger is a political scientist, initiated memorial services and the Braunau Contemporary History Days, and has been involved with Hitler’s birthplace for years.