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Many In Hitler’s Birthplace Shrug Off End-of-War Observance

May 6, 1995 GMT

BRAUNAU, Austria (AP) _ The town where Adolf Hitler was born marked 50 years since his war came to an end Saturday with an observance that suffered from an embarrassingly low turnout.

Bert Schindler, a retired state lawmaker, shook his head in disgust as he looked at the fewer than 100 people gathered for the event across the street from the tumbledown house where the Nazi dictator was born on April 20, 1889.

``We in Austria still seem unaware of where the danger comes from,″ he said. ``We still have a way of suppressing everything.″

Florian Kotanko, a local historian, said 300 invitations were sent for the commemoration organized by the city and by a committee of remembrance for the Mauthausen concentration camp, 80 miles east of Braunau.


Of the few who turned up, most were young and many seemed to be passersby or day tourists. Many of Braunau’s 17,000 residents queried beforehand said they didn’t know about it and didn’t care.

At Mauthausen, the deadliest concentration camp in German-occupied Austria, the Nazis killed more than 100,000 Jews, Gypsies and others. The camp was liberated in May 1945.

A big granite rock from the Mauthausen quarry, where tens of thousands were worked to death, stands on the sidewalk in front of Hitler’s birthplace with a memorial inscription, ``Never again fascism.″

Braunau’s Social Democratic mayor, Gerhard Skiba, said he was disappointed at the low turnout because the city offers ``a chance to warn fellow citizens against violence and fascism, to inform and repent instead of covering up.″

He warned against relativizing Nazi terror by speaking of ``prison camps″ instead of concentration camps _ as right-wing leader Joerg Haider of the Freedom Party has done recently in parliament.

Haider, a populist who has praised some aspects of Hitler’s social policy, won nearly a quarter of the vote in a 1991 provincial election in Branau. His popularity has grown since then because of economic problems.

Peter Unterrainer, a Protestant minister, said Austrians emerged like ``the phoenix from the ashes″ from the war. ``In those ashes they left buried their guilt, and everyone washed their hands in innocence,″ he said.

Until 1991, Austrian leaders had not officially admitted that Austrians were both victims and perpetrators of Hitler’s death machine. Since then, leaders and media have been more frank.

Not all Austrians appear happy about the new openness.

Josef Gruber, a war veteran in his mid-70s, said he and fellow soldiers knew ``very little″ about the concentration camps. ``Today they speak as if we soldiers had all been thugs,″ he said.