PHOTO: The house where Adolf Hitler was born in 1889 is being turned into a police station. (File photo) KERSTIN JOENSSON/AP

Austria has commenced the transformation of the yellow-brick house where Adolf Hitler was born into a police station, marking a long-standing effort to prevent the site from becoming a pilgrimage destination for neo-Nazis.

After years of debate over the ownership and fate of Hitler’s birthplace in Braunau am Inn, near Austria’s border with Germany, the Austrian government expropriated the property in 2017. The Ministry of the Interior subsequently unveiled plans to convert it into a law enforcement facility, including a human rights training center for police officers.

Recent photos and videos depict workers erecting fencing and preparing for the construction work, which is anticipated to span approximately two years. The police are slated to occupy the premises by 2026.

While activists and critics have welcomed the initiative to repurpose the site, they have voiced opposition to the idea of turning it into a police station. Some have advocated for the building’s demolition, while others propose its transformation into a memorial or exhibition space.

The memorial stone outside the property is expected to remain, bearing the inscription: “For freedom, democracy, and liberty. Never again fascism. Millions of dead are a warning.”

Austria has striven to distance itself from the unremarkable building, where Hitler was born in 1889, since the end of World War II. In 2019, when the government announced plans for the renovation, Austria’s then-Interior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn, stated that the decision “should unequivocally signal that this building’s role as a Nazi memorial has been permanently revoked.”

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Austrian officials previously expressed concerns that the house could evolve into a “cult site,” as it had attracted visitors in the past who celebrated Hitler.

However, the site has remained a topic of debate regarding how to address its historical significance.

Erich Marschall, a participant in an initiative opposing the police station conversion, argued that authorities should have engaged more extensively with Braunau residents regarding the property’s future use. Filmmaker Günter Schwaiger, who produced a documentary about Hitler’s birthplace, criticized the decision to convert it into a police station, describing it as “a misguided message” and “a disservice to the victims.”

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The government had leased the house from its longtime owner for decades after World War II. It was more recently used by an organization supporting disabled individuals until 2011 when the owner’s refusal to undertake renovations led to its abandonment.

The country’s constitutional court supported the government’s decision in 2017 to seize the property, and authorities subsequently invited architects to present redesign plans. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the renovation project, which is estimated to cost approximately $20 million.