Company That Built Hitler's Bunker Chosen to Build Retirement Home Serving Holocaust Survivors

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The construction company that built Hitler's bunker in Berlin is now working on a retirement home serving mainly Holocaust survivors.

The former head of Prague's once-thriving Jewish community said Wednesday the choice of the firm was unfortunate.

The head of Prague's Jewish community, Frantisek Banyai, seemed not to be worried by the company's past — even though it built the bunker in which Hitler killed himself on April 30, 1945.

"We did not examine these things," Banyai said. "We opened a tender and they gave us the best price."

The Czech branch of Hochtief, Germany's largest construction company, started building the $8.9-million retirement home last month and plans to complete it within 18 months.

CountryWatch: Czech Republic

The facility will accommodate about 60 people and include a medical center and daycare center.

Banyai said he negotiated only with the company's Czech branch and does not expect the German headquarters to get involved. Hochtief AG acquired the Czech subsidiary in 2002.

The company has admitted to using slave labor during World War II. Past construction projects include Nazi Germany's "Westwall" line of defenses and the "Atlantic Wall" in northern France.

It built Hitler's Bavarian Alpine retreat, called the Berghof, and his "Wolf's Lair" command headquarters in Rastenburg, in present-day Poland.

Tomas Jelinek, former chairman of the Prague Jewish community, said Wednesday the choice of the construction firm was unfortunate.

"There is no problem with Hochtief getting contracts from the Czech government 60 years after the war," Jelinek said. "But it seems strange that 60 years after the war, it can build a Jewish retirement home without even mentioning its own past.

"There is a lack of sense for historical circumstances in it, lack of feeling for the victims."

Bernd Putter, a spokesman for Hochtief Construction in Essen, said Hochtief has been very open about its past.

"We published a history of Hochtief some years ago and every chapter is very open, including the times from 1933 to 1945," Putter said, noting that the company has built several roads and highways in Israel and is often contracted in Germany to refurbish buildings for Jewish clients.

Banyai said he does not expect the future clients of the retirement home — mostly Holocaust survivors — to complain.

Times have changed, he said, noting that Germany's Volkswagen AG now makes the popular Czech Skoda sedans and if the wartime past were to be unreasonably invoked, "the survivors could not drive even a Skoda car."

Nearly 120,000 Jews lived on Czech territory before World War II; 80,000 died during the Holocaust.

Today, the Czech Republic has only a tiny Jewish community of several thousand.