Braunau am Inn, Austria
Braunau am Inn is located on the lower river Inn below its confluence with the Salzach in Austria, where it forms the border with the German state of Bavaria, halfway on the road between the state capital Linz and the Bavarian capital Munich, about 60 km. (37 mi.) north of Salzburg. Braunau is connected by bridges over the Inn with its Bavarian counterpart Simbach am Inn. It is best known as Adolf Hitler’s birthplace and the residents are aware of their town’s horrific claim to fame but can do nothing about it.
Braunau was first mentioned as Prounaw in an 1120 deed. The Innviertel region then was part of the Duchy of Bavaria. Braunau received town rights in 1260, one of the first in present-day Austria. It became a fortress town and an important trading route junction, dealing with the salt trade and with ship traffic on the Inn. As a major Bavarian settlement, the town played a role in the Bavarian uprising against the Austrian occupation during the War of the Spanish Succession, when it hosted the Braunau Parliament, a provisional Bavarian Parliament in 1705 headed by Georg Sebastian Plinganser.
Within 40 years, Braunau changed hands three times: In 1779, it became an Austrian town under the terms of the Treaty of Teschen, which settled the War of the Bavarian Succession. During the War of the Third Coalition, the Nuremberg bookseller Johann Philipp Palm was arrested at the Braunau fortress by French troops and executed for high treason by the personal order of Napoleon in 1806. Under the terms of the 1809 Treaty of Schönbrunn, Braunau became Bavarian again in 1809. In 1816, during the reorganization of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars at the Congress of Vienna, the Kingdom of Bavaria ceded the town to the Austrian Empire and was compensated by the gain of Aschaffenburg. Braunau has been Austrian ever since.
Braunau remained a garrison town of the Austro-Hungarian Army and became the site of a large prisoner-of-war camp in World War I. After the Nazi Anschluss in 1938, Ranshofen, which at that time had one of Austria’s largest aluminum plants, was incorporated into Braunau.
Hitler was born in an apartment building at Salzburger Vorstadt 15 on April 20, 1889. The house itself is unremarkable. The building housed a craft brewery and several rental flats. Hitler’s parents were just passing through while his father Alois had a job as a customs official; they rented rooms to be close to the office. Alois lived there with his third wife, Klara, and Adolf’s elder half-siblings, Alois Jr. and Angela. Three years later, they moved when Alois was transferred to Passau.
In April 1934, the Passau Donauzeitung published a commemorative article, marking the room where Hitler was born. In April 1938, Braunau renamed Salzburger Vorstadt to Adolf-Hitler-Straße, and its town plaza to Adolf-Hitler-Platz, but the building itself remained a Gasthaus, with a sign advertising beer on tap.
After Hitler’s personal secretary Martin Bormann purchased the house where Hitler was born for the Nazi Party, it became a cult center containing an art gallery and a public library. Occupied by U.S. troops at the end of World War II, the building temporarily housed a documentary exhibition on Nazi concentration camps. It later served as a city library, a technical college, and a daycare center for disabled people. In 1972, the Austrian government took over the main lease on the building to discourage any notion of making it a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis. It has been vacant since 2011.
You would not recognize the house if you did not know the address. There is no plaque or marker that says: Adolf Hitler was born here. In fact, there was nothing at the house until 1989—two weeks before the centenary of Hitler’s birth—when the mayor, Gerhard Skiba, directed that a granite memorial stone be placed directly in front of the house on public ground. His predecessor had wanted to put a tablet on the house, but the owner of the building, Gerlinde Pommer, objected because she said it violated her property rights and feared it would make it a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis or target of anti-fascists.
The granite came from the quarry at the Mauthausen concentration camp. The stone has the inscription, Für Frieden, Freiheit und Demokratie. Nie wieder Faschismus. Millionen Tote mahnen (“For peace, freedom and democracy; never again fascism: millions of dead remind us”).
The memorial honors the dead and is also meant to discourage “Hitler tourism.” Nevertheless, neo-Nazis and other admirers of Hitler rally outside the building every year on Hitler’s birthday, attracting anti-fascist counter-protesters.
In 2011, the Braunau town council voted to revoke any honorary citizenship that may have been conferred on Hitler in 1933. The action was described as “precautionary” as no archival evidence could be found to confirm that he had received it in the first place.
In 2016, the Austrian government approved a plan to move or demolish the building and expropriated the house, paying Pommer for the property. In 2020, it was announced that the building would be remodeled and serve as a police station.
Since 1992, the annual Braunau Contemporary History Days initiated by Andreas Maislinger concentrate on accounting for the past; the town’s administration awards the Egon Ranshofen-Wertheimer Award, named after diplomat Egon Ranshofen-Wertheimer, to honor committed Austrians abroad.
Several Stolpersteine were installed in Braunau by the artist Gunter Demnig to recognize Jews from the town who were murdered by the Nazis.
Braunau am Inn, Wikipedia.
Shmuley Boteach, Holocaust Holiday: One Family's Descent into Genocide Memory Hell, NY: Wicked Son, 2021.
Hitler house seizure backed by Austria's highest court, The Guardian, (June 30, 2017).
Photo: Anton-kurt, CC BY-SA 3.0 AT via Wikimedia Commons.
Map: Rosso Robot, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.