Hitler's birthplace shows that confronting dark past can take decades
By Francois Murphy
VIENNA (Reuters) - While anti-racism protesters topple statues of slave traders and colonizers worldwide, some nations are considering how to mark their dark past. In Austria the debate about the confrontation with a connection to Adolf Hitler has lasted for decades and is not over yet.
Austria recently presented plans to convert the house where the Nazi leader was born into a police station in the city of Braunau am Inn on the German border.
It was also proposed to bring a stone that is outside on the sidewalk and has an anti-fascist message to a museum in Vienna.
While many believe that the house should not become a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis, the idea of removing the stone has upset some Jewish and surviving groups who have said that Austria must face up to its role in the Holocaust.
Further consultations on the rock will now take place.
"Of course, the government wants the world to forget that the worst mass murderer in history was born in Braunau," said Willi Mernyi, chairman of the Mauthausen Committee, Austria's most important Holocaust survival group.
"This approach is wrong ... You have to see what happened."
The rock, which bears the inscriptions "Fascism never again" and "Millions dead" but did not mention Hitler, was installed by the city in 1989.
At this point, Austria was moving away from its position to reject responsibility for the Holocaust, a post-war stance in which it described itself as the first victim of the Nazis.
Partly for this reason, some say that Austria has done less to deal with its National Socialist past than neighboring Germany.
"Sometimes it feels more like a chore than an obligation based on deep conviction," said Gerhard Baumgartner, historian and scientific director at the Documentation Center of the Austrian Resistance.
While progress has been made in educating about the Holocaust and building monuments since the 1980s, Jewish and surviving groups say more needs to be done, particularly to explain how widespread and systematic the Nazi crimes were.
"This is very important - that people really know that there is something everywhere," said Charlotte Herman, leader of the group that officially represents the Jewish community in the province of Upper Austria, which also includes Braunau.
She and Mernyi mentioned the "Stumbling Stones" or "Stumbling Stones" project as a way to raise awareness.
Originally a German initiative, the aim is to put small brass signs on the sidewalk at relevant locations, for example at their place of residence.
These badges cover a fraction of the Holocaust victims, but are a relatively common sight in Vienna, where a notoriously repressive and anti-Semitic system with local support was introduced after Hitler's Germany annexed Austria in 1938.
"Something has happened all over Austria, in every corner, in front of almost every door, whether it's death marches, people who walk by and die on the street," said Herman.
Hitler's role in history is well known, so there is no need to detail it in-house, she added. But attention should be drawn to the building.
"Because evil was actually born here."
(Edited by Mike Collett-White)
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