Austrian Law for Seizing Hitler’s Birth House to be Challenged in Constitutional Court

Gerlinde Pommer, owner of Adolf Hitler’s birth house, sued the Austrian Government on January 31 over a recent expropriation law. This law allows for the Austrian government to seize Pommer’s property in the town of Braunau am Inn. Pommer’s case will be reviewed by the Austrian Constitutional Court. In an effort to prevent the property from becoming a shrine for neo-Nazi groups, the Austrian government had been renting the property from Pommer for over 30 years, concluding in 2011. When the expropriation law was passed in December, governmental plans for Hitler’s birth house were unclear. Proposals included redesigning the façade, or replacing the building entirely.

In the process of investigating the legal case, questions about the validity of the law arose. “The standard legal requirements for an expropriation are missing,” indicated Pommer’s lawyer, Gerhard Lebitsch.

The law supposedly warrants the seizure of the property in the interest of constitutional protection, specifying that this building is a symbol for neo-Nazi groups that glorifies the national socialist ideology. It posits that, as a constitutional state, Austria must use all available means to prevent the resurgence of national socialism.

In response to the filed case, a spokesman for the Constitutional Court, Wolfgang Sablatnig, said, "The Court will verify whether the [expropriation] law is valid."

The Constitutional Court has already established a precedent that requires the government to compensate for expropriated property. Section 3 Clause 1 of the Austrian Parliament’s law entrusts the process of compensation with the Federal Interior Minister, though the clause also states that the compensation amount shall be decided at the time that the Bill is announced as Federal Law —which occurred on January 13.

Though a compensation deal has not yet been finalized, the Interior Ministry disclosed that it is waiting on a final agreement from Pommer. Having waited for the bill to become a federal law before filing suit, it is likely that Lebitsch will argue that the lack of compensation within the specified time renders the law unconstitutional.

Should the Austrian Constitutional Court’s decision be in favor of the Government, Lebitsch has suggested that the case will be brought to the European Courts on Human Rights.