For Austria, A Tough Choice On What To Do With Hitler's Birthplace : Parallels Austrian officials want to make sure "nothing would happen there ... that could support Nazi ideology in any way," says a government spokesman. But there's disagreement on how best to proceed.
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For Austria, A Tough Choice On What To Do With Hitler's Birthplace

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For Austria, A Tough Choice On What To Do With Hitler's Birthplace

For Austria, A Tough Choice On What To Do With Hitler's Birthplace

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There's a different property dispute in Austria over what to do with the house where Adolf Hitler was born. The question has plagued his home country for decades. It has pitted the government in Vienna that wants the birth house gone against Austrians who say it has historical value. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Austria.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: The hometown of the world's most notorious man is Braunau am Inn, a fact most of the residents here would like to forget. Barbara Ebener is editorial director of the local weekly newspaper, BezirksRundschau.

BARBARA EBENER: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: She says, as much as residents don't want to be associated with Adolf Hitler, many here also don't want to see the three-story home in which the fuehrer was born in 1889 torn down.

Among them is Luise Keuschnig. The 87-year-old is outraged the interior ministry would seize the property from its local, elderly owner, Gerlinde Pommer.

LUISE KEUSCHNIG: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: Keuschnig tells me her personal property is her personal property. And the house is part of the town's landscape. The cream-colored building, a short walk from the German border, does blend in with a 17th century facade of Braunau.

The house is locked up but draws curiosity seekers and, more disturbingly, Neo-Nazis, says interior ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck.

KARL-HEINZ GRUNDBOECK: Because there is a certain mystification for this building under the Nazi ideology. And therefore, it was very important for the interior ministry to guarantee that nothing would happen there, in this building, that could support Nazi ideology in any way.

NELSON: So the ministry rented the building for the past 44 years. But the government and owner clashed over needed renovations, and the center moved five years ago, Grundboeck says.

GRUNDBOECK: We elaborated a number of concepts and discussed with the private owner how we could again make use of this building. And the discussion became more and more complicated.

NELSON: He says the impasse led to the ministry's decision to seize the property. Grundboeck says the ministry aims to gut and rebuild Hitler's birthplace into something unrecognizable.

A parliamentary committee last week approved a draft bill forcing the owner to sell Hitler's birth house to the government. The owner couldn't be reached for comment. Braunau Deputy Mayor Christian Schilcher says he's talked to her, and she isn't happy.

CHRISTIAN SCHILCHER: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: He worries the special seizure bill, which is expected to be approved by the full Parliament next month, will broaden the government's authority to take private property. Other Austrians I interviewed are also uncomfortable with the government's plans but for different reasons. Ilja Sichrovsky is a Jewish resident of Vienna who founded the Muslim Jewish Conference.

ILJA SICHROVSKY: The only solution is, oh, my God, we don't know what to do with it. Let's tear it down. Let's - let's do nothing with it.

NELSON: Sichrovsky says the government should instead turn the Hitler building into an educational landmark. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Vienna.

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