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.

Filed Under: austria, defamation, nazis, reviews, thomas k, truth
Companies: ferienhof gerlos


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 26 Dec 2019 @ 10:18am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Wyrm (profile), 26 Dec 2019 @ 12:11pm

      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?)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 26 Dec 2019 @ 3:17pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 26 Dec 2019 @ 12:04pm

    Obvious joke is obvious, but…

    I did Nazi that coming.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      R/O/G/S, 29 Dec 2019 @ 4:01am

      Re: Obvious joke is obvious, but…

      spoken by an actual Nazi...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    bhull242 (profile), 26 Dec 2019 @ 12:04pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 27 Dec 2019 @ 12:47am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        bhull242 (profile), 27 Dec 2019 @ 9:09am

        Re: Re:

        To be fair, it is plausible that there was someone in the Confederate Army who was not a racist. Keep in mind that not all of the soldiers volunteered. By contrast, I’m pretty sure that anyone who was a member of the Nazi army was a member of the Nazi party.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Wyrm (profile), 27 Dec 2019 @ 10:08am

          Re: Re: Re:

          By contrast, I’m pretty sure that anyone who was a member of the Nazi army was a member of the Nazi party.

          Not so sure about members of the army, but officers certainly were.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2019 @ 2:49pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Keep in mind that not all of the soldiers volunteered.

          ...the Wermacht was just as draft happy as the Confederates, if not more so.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 30 Dec 2019 @ 1:56am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mr. Hilter and his friend Mr. Boering, 26 Dec 2019 @ 12:11pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 26 Dec 2019 @ 12:14pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 26 Dec 2019 @ 12:55pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Dec 2019 @ 3:20pm

        Re: Nazi insignia?

        Not sure what I have to do to Godwin this thread, but I have a sneaking suspicion that displaying some of those specific insignia might be unlawful in and of itself in certain parts of the EU. Something or other about reopening some very nasty war wounds.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Wyrm (profile), 27 Dec 2019 @ 10:17am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2019 @ 4:51pm

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 27 Dec 2019 @ 12:50am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 27 Dec 2019 @ 3:36am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          bhull242 (profile), 27 Dec 2019 @ 9:04am

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

          “Make Germany Democratic Again,” huh? Forgive me, but MGDA doesn’t quite flow off the tongue like MAGA does.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 30 Dec 2019 @ 2:04am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Agammamon, 26 Dec 2019 @ 3:33pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 27 Dec 2019 @ 12:53am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Agammamon, 26 Dec 2019 @ 3:36pm

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 27 Dec 2019 @ 12:54am

      Re:

      "I think I would have done the research before hanging the picture."

      The picture which clearly shows a soldier of the german wehrmacht wearing the swastika?

      No further research required. It's like asking whether a US soldier is an american or not.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2019 @ 12:28pm

        Re: Re:

        "It's like asking whether a US soldier is an american or not."

        Perhaps not the best simile...

        https://www.military.com/join-armed-forces/eligibility-requirements/the-us-military-helps- naturlize-non-citizens.html

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 30 Dec 2019 @ 2:08am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2019 @ 3:26am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Pretty clear that anyone in the wehrmacht in 1937-1945 would be a card-carrying nazi.

            Including conscripts?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 2 Jan 2020 @ 1:33am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: 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?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 26 Dec 2019 @ 5:43pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2019 @ 8:06am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Sharur, 27 Dec 2019 @ 8:54am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Dec 2019 @ 4:41pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Kelly Devis (profile), 30 Dec 2019 @ 2:53am

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