I will remember George Weidenfeld for four reasons.
My first, and hopefully only, nicotine-poisoning, when I enjoyed two large cigars with him in one hour during an intensive discussion about his beloved Jerusalem in my office. Running first to the restroom and later home to relax. We both still had fun.
His Vienna charm and his honest interest in people, culture, current events, and fresh ideas. His aura.
His cosmopolitan lifestyle as a life peer, including his huge paintings of cardinals in his home in London, dinners in his favorite „Goldener Hirsch“ during the Salzburger Festspiele, and his large circles of friends, many among them were rich and famous, most of them engaged global citizens.
We discussed our mutual friend Dr. Fritz Kraemer, the iron inventor of Henry Kissinger, whom he presented a long contract for an autobiography in the early 1970th. Kraemer, the real Dr. Strangelove in the Pentagon, as well an emigrant with Jewish roots from Germany, declined because, as he told me, “Weidenfeld demanded full control over the manuscript”. In 2012 I published the biography about my mentor under the title “True Keeper of the Holy Flame.The Legacy of Pentagon Strategist and Mentor Dr Fritz Kraemer”
George was a unique master of connections, a network he had built up since the 1940th.Coming from nothing, a poor Jewish refugee from Vienna, he was first involved in anti-Nazi-propaganda in WWII, and founded his publishing house Weidenfeld & Nicolson in London as early as 1948. It soon became his base to connect to politics and the London high-society. Thus he soon became friends with many statesmen.
He became a British citizen in 1947. And was honored with a knighthood in 1969. In 1976 he became a life peer, taking the title Baron Weidenfeld of Chelsea in the County of Greater London.
His background was Jewish, typically Viennese, moderate, and open-minded. For one year, in 1949, he became advisor and Chief of Cabinet of Chaim Weizman in Israel.
He was Europeanist, a global concerned citizen, and a protector of Israel, all combined in one sensitive figure.
In 1991 the Weidenfeld & Nicolson UK branch was sold to Orion Publishing Group, where he kept a modest office as non-executive chairman. More and more he became focussed on writing columns for Axel Springer Publishing SE (Die Welt, Bild newspapers) in Berlin and promoting his Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
One of his last actions was to safe Christian children from Syria and bring them to Poland. He founded the Safe Heaven Fund, providing flights and support for 18 months. The object was to rescue 2000 families. At the time The Washington Post wrote:
“For him, it’s personal. In 1938, still a teenager, he was brought from Vienna to London where the Plymouth Brethren took him in and provided for him. He never forgot. He is trying to return the kindness, he explains, to repay the good that Christians did for him 77 years ago. In doing so, he is not just giving hope and a new life to 150 souls, soon to be thousands. He has struck a blow for something exceedingly rare: simple, willful righteousness.“
I miss George and those strong characters we have lost, like Helmut Schmidt, Fritz Kraemer, Franz Josef Strauss or Otto von Habsburg, just to name a few I met. Impressive men with deep emotions, strong will, actions, and devoting for their missions, promoting freedom and human rights and dignity.
Where are the successors of George Weidenfeld today?
People with a global vision and humanity, building networks for a safer, better world?
The people who – like Weidenfeld – are not just focused on making money and consum, but invest in talents, ideas, or culture and are active promoters of humanity.