Austria Seeks to Seize, and Possibly Tear Down, Hitler’s House


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The building in Braunau am Inn, Austria, where Hitler was born in 1889.

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Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

BERLIN — The Austrian government moved on Tuesday to seize the house where Hitler was born, and it may tear it down, in an effort to demystify a site that has become a magnet for neo-Nazis as well as tourists.

The move comes after decades of hand-wringing over the fate of the property, which has been vacant since tenants left in 2011 after a dispute with the owner, who refused to allow necessary renovations. Last year, the government appointed a historical commission to determine how best to handle the building, which has been the subject of dispute for decades.

The house — in the town of Braunau am Inn, next to the Austrian-German border and about 75 miles east of Munich — had a tavern on the ground level and apartments on the upper floors, one of which was rented by Hitler’s parents before his birth on April 20, 1889.

Fears that the house could become a pilgrimage site led the Austrian government to take over the main lease on the building in 1972, to ensure that it would not fall into the hands of someone seeking to glorify its link to a dark history.

The Austrian government offered to buy the building in 1984 from Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. But for decades, she refused to sell.

Only in 2014 did Ms. Pommer indicate that a change of hands was possible, but talks collapsed this year, owing to what the Interior Ministry called Ms. Pommer’s “lack of willingness to sell.”

Parliament took the first step on Tuesday toward removing the decades-long stain on postwar Austria’s image when the home affairs committee submitted a petition to expropriate the building. The five-page bill defended the expropriation as being in the national interest, given that “no other historical property exists in Austria that holds such a special, global and political meaning.” Ms. Pommer would receive compensation, but the amount has not yet been determined.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka has lobbied for the house to be torn down and replaced with an entirely new structure. In a statement on Monday, he repeated that wish, citing the findings of the historical commission, which recommended that “a thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building.”

Johannes Waidbacher, the mayor of Braunau am Inn, said he fully supported the commission’s finding, noting that it had further recommended that the site be used by a social or municipal institution, to further emphasize the rejection of Nazi ideology.

Ms. Pommer has received 50,023 euros, or about $55,000, in rent from the Austrian government each year since it took over the main lease. She could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Karl-Heinz Grundböck, a spokesman for Mr. Sobotka, said the ministry expected that Parliament would approve the expropriation of the building by the end of the year, and that ownership of the building to then pass to the government.

At that point, the fate of the house would be in Mr. Sobotka’s hands.

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