Tuesday, May 10, 2005

If Someone Says You Are, Then You Must Be

Everyone in America who is of German descent must have to deal with this crap at some time or another:

A Beechview tavern owner is suing a prominent Mt. Lebanon businessman and an Internet newspaper over an Internet posting that referred to the bar owner as a former Nazi.

Rupert Aumer, who owns the Alpine Tavern on Beechview Avenue with his wife, Lois, claims that Bernardo Katz called him a former German Schutzstaffel, or SS, member in an Internet Q & A with a Nazi hunter from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organization.

Normally, the "Nazi" slur is not of this magnitude; it usually consists of someone who is an idiot equating all Germans (even those Americans with German names whose families were assimilated before Hitler was ever born) with the Nazis. In the case of Mr. Aumer, it is someone attempting to deprive him of his livelihood via defamation.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, comes after Katz, who bought many properties in the Beechview business corridor in an effort to revitalize the area, filed his own lawsuit against the Aumers in April 2004.

Katz dropped that lawsuit, which claimed that the Aumers reneged on an agreement to sell him their bar, after it became clear in January that there was no written proof of a deal.

He's a blockbuster! And an apparently unsuccessful one, at least in his attempt to go after Mr. Aumer's business. If you can't win in court, there are other ways to make your chosen opponent suffer. Why not try misrepresentation and defamation of character?
Katz said that he did not post the claim on the Internet. He said that more than a year ago he e-mailed an inquiry to the Wiesenthal Center because Aumer's neighbors said Aumer had been an officer in the SS, which was an elite Nazi fighting force. He believes the center then forwarded the inquiry to the Palestine Post, an Internet edition of the Jerusalem Post, an international English language newspaper.

"Every American should have the right to know if a Nazi is living in the neighborhood," said Katz, who is Jewish and said he had relatives killed in the Holocaust. He said he is trying to create a family environment in Beechview and had an obligation to determine whether the rumors were true. "I'm not interested in attacking him personally."

"Because Aumer's neighbors said..." Do you know how much my neighbors know about me? Nothing. They see a thirtysomething couple with four kids, a minivan, a small yard that could be better taken care of, and that's about it. Many of the buildings on my block are apartments, so people don't stick around long. The few people who actually own properties are generally too involved in their own lives to mingle. And some of them have been there for years. Beechview is not too far from where I live, and is similar to my area though more urban and probably has a higher percentage of renters. Is it possible that all of Rupert Aumer's neighbors know him well enough to conclude that he was in the SS? Or did they just hear an older man with a German accent and make an assumption? This is rumormongering at its worst.

And as far as Katz's comment that he wasn't interested in attacking Mr. Aumer personally...that's honest. He's attacking Germans in general, and Mr. Aumer is just being set up as an example.

In addition to the neighbors' claims, Katz said he suspected Aumer of being an SS member because he was in Germany during World War II and would have been old enough to serve.

Aumer, 79, was drafted into the regular German Army as a teenager in 1943, where he drove a truck and never fired a gun, according to the Aumers' lawsuit.

So "old enough to serve" automatically makes Aumer an SS killing machine. (I guess we don't have to ask Katz what he thinks of Pope Benedict XVI.) But why let facts get in the way of long-range business development plans? Good luck, Mr. Aumer.

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