In Braunau am Inn, Austria—a town of 17,000 just across the Inn River from Bavaria—a three-story, butter-yellow house has caused decades of consternation. It looks benign, but it was the birthplace of Adolf Hitler, and has plagued the residents of Braunau with indecision, shame, and stress ever since American troops prevented German soldiers from destroying the structure after the US army took Braunau in May 1945.
For more than forty years, the Austrian government has leased the property—which is now owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a relative of the family who built it—and made efforts to prevent the site from becoming a destination for Nazi pilgrimages. In the decades since World War II, German and Austrian veterans visited the site, especially on Hitler’s birthday, though the the local police say neo-Nazi pilgrimages have died down of late. Instead, the house has served as a school, a library, and, most recently, a center for people with disabilities.
But since 2011, the building has stood empty as Pommer has reportedly blocked renovations necessary to attract new tenants and refused the interior ministry’s purchase offer. Now the government is taking steps to seize the house.
“We have come to the conclusion over the past few years that expropriation is the only way to avoid the building being used for the purposes of Nazi [sympathizers],” interior ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck told AFP. “We are currently examining the creation of a law, which would force a change of ownership and pass the property to the Republic of Austria.”
Grunboeck did not elaborate on plans for the house. Suggestions have included that it be used as a shelter for refugees or a memorial site, or be destroyed altogether. (In 2012, Russian parliamentarian Frantz Klintsevich made noises about attempting to buy and “demonstratively” destroy the property.)
The house makes up part of Braunau am Inn, and is therefore under heritage protection, according to the AFP.
In 2015, Andreas Maislinger, a local historian and the founder of the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service, told Newsweek he didn’t believe the house should be destroyed—but it shouldn’t stand empty either.
“It doesn’t look good, it doesn’t make a good impression,” he said. “If the house is empty, it is dangerous.”