The idea for a House of Responsibility for the birth house of Adolf Hitler was invented by Andreas Maislinger in February 2000 after the far-right Austrian Freedom Party FPÖ joined the Austrian government. He proposed to establish an international meeting place and a place of learning revolving around the concept of responsibility for young people as part of the initiative “Braunau sets a Sign“.
The conceptual challenge surrounding the birthplace of Adolf Hitler roots in the fact that the place is neither a “perpetrator’s site”, such as the Obersalzberg, the Brown House or the Reichsparteitagsgelände, nor a “victim’s site”, such as Auschwitz, Mauthausen or Hartheim, since Adolf Hitler was merely born in that house and lived there for only two months as an infant. Nothing relating to the Holocaust was ever consciously decided or done in that house.
Nevertheless, the birthplace of Adolf Hitler is a place of symbolic meaning, a symbol of the birth of the Holocaust, for some a symbol for the birth of evil. The challenge posed is how to commemorate a place that merely is a symbol.
“We understand very well that what initially may appear as stigma is, in fact, the enormous potential for educating present and future generations about the dangers of xenophobia and other types of prejudice. We hope that this ambitious project will become a reality, for the benefit of both Austrian and international visitors to the site.”
Director Auschwitz Jewish Center
The House of Responsibility (HRB) proposes the creation of another symbol, a counter-symbol with the opposite meaning of what the birth of Adolf Hitler signifies. The House of Responsibility envisions turning the symbol of the birth of the Holocaust into a symbol of responsibility, learning, peace and creativity while concurrently turning the city of Braunau am Inn, stigmatized by the birth of Adolf Hitler, into a city representing the same values.
The House of Responsibility proposes for the birth house of Adolf Hitler to become an international meeting place in which people – HRB Fellows – from diverse backgrounds come together in order to learn about responsibility. The emphasis will be on young people who come to Braunau am Inn for an extended time-period and discuss their responsibility as it relates to their own country’s history. A Chinese would meet a Japanese, a Turkish a Kurdish, an Indian a Pakistani, an Israeli a Iranian, etc. in order to reflect upon mistakes in their own country’s past and learn about the other person’s point of view.
In addition, they would partake in and contribute to various educational activities, such as literature clubs, discussion rounds, debates, artistic activities, national and international study trips, meeting distinguished people, etc. Each participant would bring his / her own perspective into the discourse.
The House of Responsibility would be based on the infrastructure and community of the Austrian Service Abroad and its worldwide partner organizations. HRB-Fellows would be chosen by the partners or the Austrian Servants Abroad themselves while serving abroad to partake in the program.
The Austrian Service Abroad has chapters in each federal state of Austria and organizes meetings in each capital where the HRB-Fellows can connect to and join.
Due to its operation since 1998 the Austrian Service Abroad has relations / partnerships with many organizations within Austria and beyond, e.g. the Stefan Zweig Centre in Salzburg, the Obersalzberg in Bavaria, the Jewish Museums in Vienna / Munich / Augsburg / etc., which the HRB-Fellows can visit. It organizes many events, seminars and study trips, for example cohort conferences, Wednesday-Conferences, Israel-seminars and an annual Poland Holocaust study trip, where HRB-Fellows too can participate. The Austrian Service Abroad also has many teams, reflected in its organigram, in which HRB-Fellows can contribute to.
In addition, the House of Responsibility will also initiate its own activities and projects. It will be a house hosting seminars, conferences, summer schools, etc. where HRB-Fellows and others come together to learn, discuss and create. For events outsizing the birth house of Adolf Hitler, Braunau offers various places in which larger groups of people can come together, such as the Kultur am Gugg.
“I gladly support your initiative to transform Adolf Hitler’s birth house into a House of Responsibility. It can contribute to a sincere confrontation with the past, which is a prerequisite to learning from the past, for the future.”
Former President Austrian Supreme Court
The birth house of Adolf Hitler has 3 floors.
The second floor will be devoted to the future. It shall deal with peace promotion, peace research, reconciliation efforts, cultural diversity and the commemoration of atrocities other than the Holocaust. Its activities are exemplified by the Austrian Peace Service. It will portray the lives of Nelson Mandela and Bertha von Suttner.
The ground floor will be devoted to the past. It shall deal with past events, the remembrance of atrocities, the commemoration of victims and the combating of anti-semitism. Its activities are exemplified by the Austrian Gedenkdienst. Its symbol is the Kniefall von Warschau by Willy Brandt. It will portray the life of Simon Wiesenthal.
The House of Responsibility is about international encounters and meeting new people, exchanging ideas and viewpoints, and listening and learning from others. For this the HRB relies upon the network of national and international contacts and partners of the Austrian Service Abroad. The HRB is about developing programs and events together with its contacts and friends.
“I support the plan for the House of Responsibility, as it will give young people the opportunity to explore ways that as global citizens they can combat hate and antisemitism. This project is not to memorialise the role of Adolf Hitler but to say that we can find something good from the darkness of the 1930s and 1940s that together we can remember, educate and act in the face of evil and do good for the world.”
CEO Holocaust Centre of New Zealand