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article imageAdolf Hitler house demolition plan sparks new row

By Nina Lamparski (AFP)     Oct 18, 2016 in World

A new row erupted Tuesday over Austria's plans to raze the house where Adolf Hitler was born, with experts saying they opposed the demolition only a day after a decision was announced.

After a lengthy legal battle with the current owner, Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said Monday the listed property in the northern town of Braunau would be "torn down" to stop it from becoming a neo-Nazi shrine.

A new building on the site would be used by a charity or the local authorities, he told Austrian media.

Sobotka said the decision was based on recommendations from an expert committee.

But several of the panel's 13 members denied Tuesday that the commission had backed the push to bulldoze the yellow corner house where Hitler was born on April 20, 1889.

"The demolition option had been explicitly mentioned in the (government's) proposal and was not approved by us," said Clemens Jabloner, the ex-president of Austria's highest administrative court, in a joint statement with historian Oliver Rathkolb.

Instead, the committee had suggested a "profound architectural redesign".

"A demolition would amount to negating Austria's Nazi past," the pair said.

Braunau mayor Johannes Waidbacher, another panel member, also said there had been "no mention of demolition" in the report.

Responding to the criticism, Sobotka on Tuesday insisted the main goal was to destroy any "resemblance" to the current house, "especially its outer appearance".

Whether this process would an involve an actual demolition could be discussed, he told journalists in Vienna.

The government would put the new building design out to tender, Sobotka added.

A copy of the commission's report showed the experts had been "against leaving an empty space instead of a building".

"A complete transformation or removal of the building is in principle suited to erase the place's ideological connotation and dissolve the emotional ties with Hitler. But... a historical contextualisation remains necessary," the report read.

- 'Never again fascism' -

Portrait dated 1938 of German Nazi Chancellor Adolf Hitler
Portrait dated 1938 of German Nazi Chancellor Adolf Hitler
, AFP/File

Although Hitler only spent the first few weeks of his life at Number 15 Salzburger Vorstadt Street, the address has been a persistent thorn in Austria's side, drawing Nazi sympathisers from around the world.

Every year on Hitler's birthday, anti-fascist protesters organise a rally outside the building, next to a memorial stone reading: "For Peace, Freedom and Democracy. Never Again Fascism, Millions of Dead Warn."

The dilapidated property in the historic town centre has been empty since 2011 when the government became embroiled in a dispute with owner and local resident Gerlinde Pommer.

Her family has owned the 800-square-metre (8,600-feet) building for more than a century, except for a brief period during the Nazi regime.

In 1972, the Austrian government signed a lease with Pommer and turned the premises into a centre for people with disabilities.

But the arrangement came to an abrupt end five years ago when Pommer refused to grant permission for much-needed renovation works.

The famously elusive owner also rejected a purchase offer made by the increasingly exasperated interior ministry.

In July, the government approved a legislation amendment to seize the house from Pommer who continues to net 4,800 euros (around $5,300) in rent every month.

The expropriation bill, which includes compensation for Pommer, was to be debated in parliament later Tuesday.

Sobotka earlier said it could enter into force by the end of the year.

The issue has also sparked debate among Braunau's 17,000 residents.

Some want the building to become a refugee centre, others a museum dedicated to Austria's liberation from Nazi rule.

"Whether the house stays or not changes nothing in our responsible dealings with history," said district commissioner Georg Wojak on Tuesday.

"Braunau doesn't deserve to be reduced to Hitler's dictatorship."

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