George Weidenfeld, Baron Weidenfeld, GBE (13 September 1919 – 20 January 2016) was a British publisher, philanthropist, and newspaper columnist. He was also a lifelong Zionist and renowned as a master networker. He was on good terms with popes, prime ministers and presidents and put his connections to good use for diplomatic and philanthropic ends.
George Weidenfeld was born in Vienna, Austria in 1919,He was the only son of Max and Rosa Weidenfeld. Weidenfeld attended the University of Vienna and the city's Diplomatic College. Following the Anschluss (Germany's annexation of Austria) in 1938, he emigrated to London and began work with the monitoring service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Weidenfeld married Jane Sieff in 1952, Barbara Skelton in 1956, Sandra Payson Meyer in 1966, and Annabelle Whitestone in 1992. He was a staunch supporter of Israel and was described as an "adamantine Zionist". Among his friends were politicians Angela Merkel and Kurt Waldheim.
He died in London on 20 January 2016, aged 96 and was honoured with burial on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
Journalism and political career
By 1942 he was a political commentator for the BBC and also wrote a weekly newspaper column, coming into contact with General de Gaulle and Tito as a result. Not long afterwards, from 1949, he was away for a year as the political adviser and Chief of Cabinet to Chaim Weizmann, the first President of Israel.
In 1948 Weidenfeld co-founded the publishing firm Weidenfeld & Nicolson with Nigel Nicolson. Intending to start an upmarket political magazine, a mix of the New Statesman, Fortune and The New Yorker, they found that the post-war paper shortage made a book publishing concern more feasible, and the new firm was partly intended as a cover for the impractical magazine. Over the years, the firm published many outstanding titles, including the British edition of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita in 1959 and Nicolson's biography of his parents, Portrait of a Marriage (1973).
In 1985 Weidenfeld's publishing interests expanded to the United States, when he acquired the Grove Press in partnership with Ann Getty (wife of Gordon Getty). Grove later merged with the New York division of Weidenfeld & Nicolson to form Grove Nicolson. In 1991 Weidenfeld & Nicolson's UK branch was sold to the Orion Publishing Group and became Orion's main non-fiction imprint, with Weidenfeld as non-executive chairman.
In 1993 the American company, Grove Nicolson, merged with the Atlantic Monthly Press to form Grove/Atlantic Inc. In 2005 he arranged the publication of Memory and Identity by John Paul II. Weidenfeld was also Joint Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Blavatnik School of Government in Oxford; Adviser to the Board of Axel Springer AG Berlin and a columnist for the Berlin newspapers Die Welt, Welt am Sonntag and Bild Zeitung. In January 2006 the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, originally founded as The Club of Three in the 1990s, was established with Weidenfeld as its Leadership Programme in Oxford and, in 2010, founded the Humanitas Programme of Visiting Chairs at Oxford and Cambridge.
Jewish and Zionist causes
Weidenfeld served in many philanthropic capacities including Chairman of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev (1996–2004), Governor of the Weizmann Institute, Vice-Chairman of the EU-Israel Forum, member of the Founding Council of the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford, Trustee, Royal Opera House (1974–87) and Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery (1988–95). He also established the "Weidenfeld Safe Havens Fund", which intends to support Christians fleeing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, although its focus on Christians has caused some criticism.
Awards and honours
Weidenfeld became a British citizen in 1947, was knighted in 1969, and created a life peer on 25 June 1976 taking the title Baron Weidenfeld, of Chelsea in the County of Greater London. He was appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE) in the 2011 New Year Honours for public service.
Further honours included Honorary Fellow of St Peter's College, Oxford, Honorary Fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford, Hon. Fellow, King's College London, and Honorary D.Litt. from the University of Exeter. He was made an Honorary Senator of Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, Bonn, in 1996 and awarded the Degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, by Oxford University in 2010. He held the German Knights Commanders Cross (Badge & Star) of the Order of Merit (1991), the Austrian Cross of Honour First Class for Arts and Science (2002), the Decoration of Honour in Gold for Services to the County of Vienna (2003), the Italian Grand Officer of the Order of Merit (2005) and the Order of Merit of the Land Baden-Württemberg (2008). The Polish Foreign Minister awarded him with the Bene Merito distinction in 2011. He received the London Book Fair/Trilogy Lifetime Achievement Award for International Publishing in 2007 and the Teddy Kollek Life Achievement Award in Jerusalem in 2009.
- Remembering My Good Friends: An Autobiography. New York City: HarperCollins. 1995. ISBN 0-06-017286-X.