George Weidenfeld, British Jewish Publisher and Philanthropist, Dies at 96

A refugee from Nazi Vienna, he was eulogized as 'an advocate of the Jewish people and a life-long Zionist who always defended Israel against attacks and unfair criticism.'

Lord Weidenfeld speaking at a World Jewish Congress gala in his honor in London last May.
YouTube screenshot

Lord George Weidenfeld, a British Jewish publisher and philanthropist, died on Tuesday at the age of 96, the British press has reported.

Weidenfeld was "a committed philanthropist, an advocate of the Jewish people and a life-long Zionist who always defended Israel against attacks and unfair criticism," Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, commented in a statement on Wednesday. "There are very few people in today’s world who have the courage and the temerity to speak out when they see injustice. George was one of them." The WJC noted Weidenfeld was its honorary vice president.

Weidenfeld was born in Vienna in 1919, but fled to after Austria merged with Nazi Germany in 1938.

Lauder said a Christian family had saved him and his loved ones.

"George never forgot what Christians had done to save him, and only a few months ago, he set up a foundation to rescue thousands of persecuted Christians in the Middle East," said Lauder, referring to the Weidenfeld Safe Havens Fund, which supports Christians fleeing the Islamic State.

In Britain, he worked as a commentator for the BBC and wrote a weekly newspaper column. After World War Two, he founded his own publishing company. The firm, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, was named imprint of the year at the 2015 British Bookseller awards, an accomplishment in which Weidenfeld took "great delight," according to The Guardian.

His publishing house, which confirmed his death, stated that Weidenfeld had remained "actively involved," in the company "until his death."

Weidenfeld engaged in numerous philanthropic activities. He served as chairman of Ben-Gurion University in the Negev, governor of the Weizmann Institute and vice-chairman of the EU-Israel Forum, among other voluntary leadership positions.

After Israel's War of Independence in 1949, Weidenfeld took a year to be Presdent Chaim Weizmann's adviser. 

He was knighted in 1969 and was made a life peer in 1976, after which he hold the title Baron Weidenfeld. He was also appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in 2011 for his public service.

"Throughout his life, he strove to ensure that good will triumph over evil," commented Lauder.

Weidenfeld is survived by his wife Annabelle, his children and grandchildren.