Lewit v. Austria  |2019

Holocaust survivor defends his reputation at the European court

Aba Lewit will be deeply missed.

Quote from Mauthausen Memorial’s obituary of Aba Lewit, who sadly passed away in 2020 - © Photo: Mauthausen Memorial/Stephan Matyus


Aba Lewit was a Holocaust survivor. As a young man, he was sent by the Nazi regime to the Mauthausen concentration camp, where he was held until its liberation in 1945.

Over 70 years later, Aba and several other survivors took legal action against a magazine which, in 2015, published an article that described those liberated from Mauthausen as “mass murderers”, “criminals” and “a plague”.

The legal action concerned a second article, published by the same magazine in 2016, which reported on the closure of a criminal investigation into the author of the first article, and which repeated the earlier statements. Aba and the other survivors argued that this article defamed and insulted them.

In 2016, an Austrian court dismissed the survivors’ claim, finding that the magazine’s statements did not personally affect them because thousands of people were liberated from Mauthausen. It said that Aba and the other survivors were not therefore individually identifiable in the article.

The court also ruled that the article did not contain any separate defamatory statements but only described the outcome of the criminal investigation.

On appeal, the survivors insisted that they could be identified because only a few former Mauthausen prisoners were still alive, and most of them were known to the public.

An appeal court confirmed the earlier findings and rejected the survivors’ complaint, without considering the size of the group.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court found that Austria had failed to protect Aba’s reputation, and his privacy, because the domestic courts did not properly examine the central issue of his defamation claim.

This included whether Aba had a case to argue, because far fewer Holocaust survivors were still alive.


In June 2021, Austria’s supreme court declared that the domestic courts had failed in their duty to give proper reasons when deciding whether Aba was affected by the article and therefore had a right to file a lawsuit.

This means that, if a similar situation happens in the future, the Austrian courts will have to explain their judgments more effectively and answer the questions that were left unanswered in Aba’s case.

The magazine that published the articles is no longer in print.


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