Hitler hometown deals with sinister past

The birthplace of Adolf Hitler is showing more and more effort in critically reviewing its dark legacy.

A majority of residents of Braunau are confronted with the town’s connection to the Third Reich leader who committed suicide shortly before the end of World War Two (WWII). A study by sociologist Judith Forstner reveals that four in 10 Braunau citizens get asked about Hitler “very often,” while another 43 per cent are confronted with the issue “now and then.”

Austrian magazine profil reports that her survey found that around a third of Braunau’s populace think that others have prejudices towards the town which is located in the province of Upper Austria and just a few kilometres from Austria’s border with the German state of Bavaria.

Hitler only spent his childhood in Braunau. Martin Haidinger and Günther Steinbach write in their book “Unser Hitler” that the dictator detested Vienna where he lived as a young man – and failed as an artist. Hitler considered the Austrian capital as a hotbed of filth, according to the book which describes his various experiences as well as Austrians’ difficult and diversified stance to the ruthless dictator and his roots.

Hitler had great plans for Linz. While speaking about Vienna in derogative terms throughout his life, the Third Reich leader planned to turn Linz into a showpiece of the Nazis’ bombast architecture and the southern centre of his empire.

Braunau Town Hall was forced to act when rumours emerged last month that Hitler is still a citizen of honour. Green MP Karl Öllinger claimed he found evidence suggesting that the infamous dictator was still honoured in that way decades after the end of WWII.

The town’s administrative authorities promised to search files themselves before making a decision. They did not find clear evidence confirming Öllinger’s claim. Nevertheless, the Town Hall decided to issue a “symbolic act” of stripping Hitler of all previously expressed honorary titles and rights. All parties including the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) agreed to consider the issue and which actions to take.

The party has infuriated political rivals and non-government organisations (NGOs) before by abstaining from voting regarding a similar issue in Amstetten, Lower Austria. All but the delegates of the FPÖ declared the honorary citizenship title of Hitler invalid when it emerged that he was still regarded that way in the town’s books. The FPÖ claimed such titles would automatically become nullified by a person’s death – a claim that has been challenged by historians.

Accusations that many people of Braunau support right-wing ideologies are unconfirmed by election results since the party was never able to nominate a mayor since WWII ended. Braunau Town Hall has been headed by mayors named by the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) since 1945. However, especially the federal SPÖ has been criticised for allegedly trying to whitewash the personal history of some of its members and former delegates accused of being involved in war ear crimes against members of the Jewish community and other minorities.

Now all eyes are on political decision-makers in Braunau as the future of the house where Hitler was born is uncertain. The Lebenshilfe, an organisation supporting disabled people, has used the building but is set to leave at the end of this year when the rent contract expires. Town Hall leaders consider turning the building into a “House of Responsibility,” according to profil. The complex could accommodate a museum as well as social work institutions, the magazine reports.

Neo-Nazis have not been allowed to gather in Braunau on 20 April, Hitler’s birthday, over the years. Left-wingers have been lined up each year to hold their own event in case that the right-wing extremists ignore police orders.