After the 1938 Nazi annexation of Austria, the young George Weidenfeld, who died yesterday at the age of ninety-six, fled his native Vienna for Britain, where he was taken in by a Christian family. As an adult, he founded and directed a prestigious British publishing house. Most recently, he devoted his efforts and financial resources to rescuing Middle Eastern Christians, inspired by a sense that he could thus repay “a debt of gratitude” to those who helped him in his youth. In addition to being a great philanthropist and a passionate Zionist, writes Douglas Murray, he was also “one of the greatest receptacles and advocates for high European culture, [and] also perhaps one of the last”:
No one else could speak with such insight and with such personal experience of Nabokov, Picasso, Isaiah Berlin, and a thousand others besides. . . .
George Weidenfeld was also a passionate Zionist. At a recent public talk on Theodor Herzl he spoke of his own association with the state of Israel since its inception, during which he had been at Chaim Weizmann’s side. But he also focused on what an extraordinary thing it was that in any single human lifespan such a magnificent and necessary vision could have been achieved.
Yet perhaps even more than the past, George Weidenfeld was passionately concerned with the future. He never stopped befriending, encouraging, and inspiring the young. . . . He set up countless scholarship schemes and similar learning opportunities for students in the UK and abroad. . . .
In recent years he was desperately concerned by the rise of Islamic fanaticism, concerned for the state of Israel, and concerned for Christian civilization—indeed concerned for civilization everywhere. A proper estimate of George Weidenfeld’s life would require many, many words from many, many writers. . . . In the Jewish tradition people say of the dead, “May his memory be a blessing.” George Weidenfeld’s long life was, and his memory already is.