Austrian Hotel Drops Libel Lawsuit Against Guest Who Complained About Pictures Of Nazis In The Lobby

from the calling-a-nazi-a-nazi-still-protected-expression-(but-just-barely) dept

Some sanity has finally prevailed in Austria, where libel laws are anything but sane. Earlier this year, a guest of the Ferienhof Gerlos hotel in Austria was sued by the hotel after posting reviews that mentioned the unexpected presence of a photo of a man in a Nazi uniform by the front entrance.

The guest — referred to in court documents only as “Thomas K” — said a few things the hotel didn’t like in his reviews. This:

At the entrance they display a picture of a Nazi grandpa.

And this:

This made us wonder what the hotel owners are trying to tell us with this image. This incident speaks volumes about the current state of affairs in this region of Austria.

The hotel owners claimed the photo was not of a “Nazi grandpa,” but rather the only photo they had of this relative who was definitely not a Nazi. The owners claimed the person had never been a member of the Nazi party, but rather only a member of the military force controlled by the Nazi government. Checkmate, I guess.

Except that wasn’t actually true. The reviewer being sued did his research and discovered the person in the picture had been a member of the Nazi party. So, an actual “Nazi grandpa,” not just a “Nazi-adjacent grandpa.”

Despite all of this, the Austrian court sided with the hotel owners. It granted a preliminary injunction, stating that the hotel owner’s interest in “protecting her reputation took precedence over the guest’s right to freedom of expression.”

Having actual evidence backing Nazi claims is no defense to libel accusations by someone who wants to “protect” their reputation, I guess. Fortunately, the court reconsidered this decision and decided that maybe having proof that the Nazi being called a Nazi by a hotel guest is actually a Nazi might tip the scale back in favor of freedom of expression.

The court rolled back the injunction in November, citing the evidence showing the accused Nazi was a literal Nazi. With the injunction gone, the hotel owners have decided it’s probably not a good idea to keep suing.

The owners of an Austrian four-star hotel who took one of their visitors to court over his online review criticising the portrait of a “Nazi grandpa” in its lobby have dropped the case because the guest managed to unearth evidence showing their relative had in fact been a member of the Nazi party.

I wonder how much a visit to the German National Archives costs?

The hotel’s owners, who say they had not been aware of their relatives’ party membership, will likely have to pay their former guests’ legal costs of about €10,000 (£8,350).

The hotel owners could have done a little research before engaging in litigation, but that same thing could be said about lots of plaintiffs in bogus defamation suits. Careless litigation tends to do more damage to reputations than anything defendants have said. The decision to place a photo containing a person wearing Nazi symbols at the entrance of a hotel was a terrible judgment call by the owners. A simple apology and an explanation would have been far better than this expensive mess it made for itself.

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Comments on “Austrian Hotel Drops Libel Lawsuit Against Guest Who Complained About Pictures Of Nazis In The Lobby”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Well that was awkward

Claimed grandfather wasn’t a nazi and sued to punish someone who said as such. Target does some research and confirms that said person most certainly was a nazi. How’s that saying go, ‘It is better to be suspected of having a nazi grandfather than to sue and remove all doubt’?

The owners claimed the person had never been a member of the Nazi party, but rather only a member of the military force controlled by the Nazi government. Checkmate, I guess.

Assume for a second this statement had turned out to be true, that said person wasn’t actually a nazi… was literally the only picture they had of him the one where he was in a nazi uniform? Because If it was that would certainly be odd, and if it wasn’t their choice of which picture they chose to honor him with is just all sorts of screwed up and basically begging people to respond as the guest did, wondering why exactly they had a picture someone in nazi uniform in a prominent place in the hotel.

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Wyrm (profile) says:

Re: Well that was awkward

… wondering why exactly they had a picture someone in nazi uniform in a prominent place in the hotel.

My thoughts exactly. Had that "grandpa" not been actually a member of the nazi party, that didn’t change the fact that they proudly displayed their grandpa posing in a nazi uniform. There had to be something in better taste. Like a picture of him posing in casual clothes. Or the picture of a local sightseeing spot. Or of a flower vase. Anything other than a man in nazi uniform.

Or they are really proud of him serving in the nazi army, even assuming he was not a card-carrying nazi. In which case they should not be surprised when people are assuming he was a nazi (which, as it turns out, he was) and drawing conclusions on their choice of portray on display. If they are proud of this portray, let them assume their choice with pride. (Not sure what good that would do to their business, but "moral" principles come first I assume?)

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JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Well that was awkward

Being in Austria and knowing all the laws there and in Germany over Nazi symbols, you’d have thought they would have taken the ten seconds needed to edit the picture in Photoshop/GIMP/any other graphics editing app to remove anything offensive. Even if it was the only picture they had, that doesn’t mean you can’t make minor edits to prevent people from thinking you’re a bunch of Nazi sympathizers.

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bhull242 (profile) says:

I know this isn’t necessarily the standard in Austria, but personally I think that the “clearly visible swastikas” in the portrait should be more than sufficient evidence to support the inference that the person wearing the swastika is, in fact, a Nazi, party membership notwithstanding.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"…that the “clearly visible swastikas” in the portrait should be more than sufficient evidence to support the inference that the person wearing the swastika is, in fact, a Nazi, party membership notwithstanding."

You’d think. To be fair though it appears the austrian hotel owners may finally have realized this as they dropped the libel suit.

But let’s be honest. We live in a world where millions of americans stick out their necks to defend the confederate slaver army from the "racist" label. Mere history isn’t going to stop a few idiots from denying observable reality.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"To be fair, it is plausible that there was someone in the Confederate Army who was not a racist."

McPherson studied that and came to the conclusion that yes, pretty much every confederate soldier believed slavery was natural, with 20% believing wholeheartedly that preserving slavery was the whole point of the war.

The draft was only 10% of the whole confederate army at the end with the vast majority being completely set on sticking to their guns.

It is possible that there were individuals who didn’t particularly believe in the "natural inferiority of the black man" but highly unlikely. Either way every last soldier DID swear to the confederate constitution which puts them in the exact same place as the german Wehrmacht in 1940.

I think your argument has as sole sticking point that it’s theoretically possible to swear eternal loyalty to the institution of slavery while not per definition holding racist views.
That’s…basically the Nürnberg defense.

I’d say that any confederate soldier willing to kill and die to preserve slavery MUST be considered racist the same way a wehrmacht soldier or camp guard couldn’t, post-war, make the claim that they weren’t anti-semitic.

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Mr. Hilter and his friend Mr. Boering says:

I might suggest that there’s an alternative explanation for their having placed a picture of Nazi Grandpa in the lobby other than "a terrible judgment call by the owners". The terrible judgment call might have been drawing attention to the situation by suing the people who were suggesting that the picture placement might have been just exactly what it looked like.

David says:

Don't ask, don't tell.

The hotel’s owners, who say they had not been aware of their relatives’ party membership, will likely have to pay their former guests’ legal costs of about €10,000 (£8,350).

Funny thing is that the hotel’s owners might be telling the truth here. After WWII ended, nobody had an interest in flaunting the extent of their role in supporting the German side of the war, not in Germany, not elsewhere. That information was just not passed down to non-witnesses in the family.

And for all they knew, the Nazi insignia could have indeed been just an inescapable mark of the times without deeper meaning.

But suing rather than taking down a photograph that just does not work well as advertising still seems like a bad idea. Even if it had turned out that the insignia were worn only fabric-deep.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

for all they knew, the Nazi insignia could have indeed been just an inescapable mark of the times without deeper meaning

They knew what it meant. They had to know. But they chose to believe a nice lie rather than admit the awful truth until they had no other choice.

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Wyrm (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Nazi insignia?

Note: a Godwin point is not reached simply talking about nazis, it’s originally about comparing the people you’re arguing with to Hitler and/or nazis in order to discredit them instead of their argument. (fallacy of reductio ad Hitlerum)

Comparison with nazis can still be legitimate without reaching Godwin point.
(See Wikipedia: "Godwin’s law itself can be abused as a distraction, diversion or even as censorship, fallaciously miscasting an opponent’s argument as hyperbole when the comparisons made by the argument are actually appropriate.")

Nazis being the subject of the thread will not make it easier or harder to Godwin, but it will make it easier for others to pretend the point was reached.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Nazi insignia?

They are in Germany. Also in Austria, but the intent is that you don’t display paraphernalia with intent to promote. You’d have to look at context and all to see if they intent to promote nazism simply by displaying the picture of a relative.

Honestly, i wouldn’t want a nazi pic of my nazi granddad displayed, but whatever. Not illegal by the mere display of it.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Don't ask, don't tell.

"After WWII ended, nobody had an interest in flaunting the extent of their role in supporting the German side of the war, not in Germany, not elsewhere. That information was just not passed down to non-witnesses in the family."

I went to school for a few years in Germany, on the austrian border, in the time where the hotel owners should have gone through basic education as well.

Trust me when I say the only way an austrian or german could make the mistake you imply they did is if they spent their entire childhood outside either austria or germany. Children in germany and austria have been extensively informed about the role of their ancestors in WW2.

David says:

Re: Re: Don't ask, don't tell.

That concerns national history, not personal one. There is a sense of collective guilt, but not due to one’s personal ancestors who at worst were forced into something they had no choice in. The denazification executed a few dozen people and taught the occupied parts of the country to pretend that being a Nazi never was a thing.

It was a collective brainwashing of a country’s mind, sort of like Fox News on stereoids: Make Germany Democratic Again.

And those things work. There is some sense of collective guilt for letting oneself become a victim of the Nazis, but even the Neo-Nazis are not continuing where their own individual great-grandparents left off.

Of course one’s personal sense of history is warped differently in different countries that have been on different sides of a war.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Don't ask, don't tell.

"There is a sense of collective guilt, but not due to one’s personal ancestors who at worst were forced into something they had no choice in."

Plenty of people in germany who found out exactly what their ancestors did and condemn them for it. They know damn well that in 1939 their grandfathers were in the streets cheering their throats out for Der Führer.

The few exceptions – Die Weisse Rose and similar anti-nazi movements – are the sole exceptions and more than one german stands tall today because their ancestors were among the few who refused to go with the herd mentality.

That said there are arguments as to why the nazi party became popular not rooted in anti-semitism and general hatred. Breaking the unfair conditions of the Versailles treaty, getting rid of generations of increasingly irrelevant and inept politicians in the weimar republic, getting everyone a job in which they could support their families – these all mattered.
…but it doesn’t change the fact that the german people didn’t go into nazism blindly or unwillingly. And they did accept the race hatred along with it.

Agammamon says:

The owners claimed the person had never been a member of the Nazi party, but rather only a member of the military force controlled by the Nazi government.

I mean, yeah. Not all members of the US armed forces are Republicans. And they weren’t all Democrats three years ago. Its a valid point.

Of course, a point rendered moot when it turned out that, yeah, the dude was also a NAZI independent of being in the German military.

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

" Not all members of the US armed forces are Republicans. And they weren’t all Democrats three years ago. Its a valid point."

That’s not analogous.

The equivalent analogy is "Just because someone is a member of the armed forces doesn’t mean they swore the Oath of Office to the constitution".

A wehrmacht member in 1940 would have sworn his oath to the nazi charter and to Hitler personally. That’s guaranteed.

Agammamon says:

The hotel owners could have done a little research before engaging in litigation,

I think I would have done the research before hanging the picture. Maybe grandpa was just a soldier – Nazi-adjacent as you say – or maybe he was a Nazi. Now, Nazi grandpa is still grandpa, but maybe don’t hang the picture out front in that situation?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Perhaps not the best simile…"

Mea Maxima Culpa.

I retract and change my statement to "It’s like asking whether a US soldier has sworn the oath of enlistment".

Pretty clear that anyone in the wehrmacht in 1937-1945 would be a card-carrying nazi. The worn swastika is just the photographic equivalent of two exclamation marks and an underline.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

"Including conscripts?"

Oh, yes. He may have been pressured by his peers into signing his name to the party book, but he was in it the very second he put his uniform on and swore the oath.

Here’s the thing; If someone picks you up, makes you swear an oath to the fearless leader(TM), hands you a rifle, and drops you in a trench…then your choice is either to desert or to start killing like a good soldier.

You may have had shitty options handed to you but the very first shot you fire means you decided to be a murderer. The court at Nürnberg came to the pretty clear conclusion that whether you were afraid of authority or not, it was your personal choice to kill.

The wehrmacht soldier and confederate soldier alike swore themselves to a malicious inhuman code and psychotic leadership – and chose to fight for it rather than against it.

We don’t give gang members a pass on their crimes just because their leader is a hardass so why would we extend that courtesy to a soldier expressly commissioned to kill people?

DB (profile) says:

It’s disappointing that the ruling on the Nazi-or-not-Nazi fact.

Putting up the picture was the issue. In the U.S. that so-called libel would be an opinion based on disclosed facts.

But, just like the U.S., the lawsuit was the punishment. They didn’t think that anyone would risk the cost of the research, even if 75% sure that the conclusion would be "yup, Nazi". But, unlike the U.S., ‘loser pays’ kept the injustice from being greater.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: loser pays?

Actually no, "loser pays" causes its own problems. One of them is named "Peter Theil" and you can read about it on Gawker… or maybe not. The problem is that, if the speaker is an unrepresented party or of limited means, an adversary can bankrupt them in legal fees before any justice is done. David should not be paying Goliath’s legal fees in these cases, as it discourages poor victims from petitioning the courts for relief while the rich, well-heeled and well-represented can run roughshod over everyone. That ends up with big record companies suing little kids, as one example.

Sharur says:

Re: Re:

Note that in the US, "pay your own costs" is a default rule, not an absolute one.

There are many circumstances in which "loser pays" applies, though in the US system it is referred to as "being awarded attorney’s fees/legal fees".

Also note that in the US, the hotel owners probably wouldn’t even gotten the preliminary injunction, because in the US, truth is not a "defense" as it is in the UK, and evidently the EU; rather, falsehood is a necessary part of defamation. So the initial pleading would have had to have some evidence (hopefully greater than "this is what I was told by my parents") that the statement was false or the thing would have been initially dismissed.

Anonymous Coward says:

the hotel owner’s interest in "protecting her reputation took precedence over the guest’s right to freedom of expression."

They have a picture. In the lobby! Everyone sees the picture of Nazi-era soldier in the lobby. So… someone mentioning prominently-displayed picture is… defamation. OK!

Good it was overturned, but the researched facts really should not be necessary.

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