George Weidenfeld, publishing giant, dead at 96

Weidenfeld was actively engaged in many charitable activities in England, Israel and other parts of the world, and did not limit his goodwill and largesse to Jewish causes alone.

January 21, 2016 02:46
3 minute read.



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CASHMAN International publishing giant and multifaceted philanthropist Lord George Weidenfeld has died at the age of 96.

The Austrian-born Weidenfeld fled to London from his native Vienna in 1938, following Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria, and quickly found work with the monitoring service of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

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A graduate of Vienna’s Diplomatic College, it did not take Weidenfeld long to develop a clear understanding of British and European politics, and by 1942 he was the BBC’s political commentator and the author of a weekly newspaper column. Yet it was not until 1947 that he became a British citizen.

His work naturally brought him into contact with political leaders from around the globe, including Chaim Weizmann, the first president of the fledgling State of Israel. Weidenfeld was an ardent Zionist and became Weizmann’s bureau chief and key political adviser, spending a year in Israel in that capacity.

That year was perhaps indicative of his devotion to Israel, as he had founded his publishing house Weidenfeld and Nicolson only a year earlier, and had left Nigel Nicolson in charge while he was in Israel.

Weidenfeld retained an abiding interest in Israel following his return to London and served as chairman of the board of governors of Ben-Gurion University from 1996 to 2004. He was also a member of the board of governors of the Weizmann Institute.

In 2009 he was the recipient of the Jerusalem Foundation’s Teddy Kollek Life Achievement Award. It was one of many awards for publishing and service to humanity that he received from Britain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Poland and Israel.

The Teddy Kollek award was special because Weidenfeld had known Kollek personally for well over half a century.

Among the many Weidenfeld and Nicolson publications were books on art and archeology based to some extent on collections of the Israel Museum and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

Weidenfeld was actively engaged in many charitable activities in England, Israel and other parts of the world, and did not limit his goodwill and largesse to Jewish causes alone. His generosity extended in many directions and impacted on people of different faiths, ethnic backgrounds and ideologies. As recently as June last year, he was involved in a rescue operation in which 42 Syrian Christian families were taken from Islamic State-controlled territory to the safety of Warsaw.

Just as his charitable interests were widespread and varied, so were his publishing interests, which expanded to the United States and Germany.

Relatively early in his publishing career, he published Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial and provocative novel Lolita, but also published the autobiographies of great statesmen and politicians and influential religious leaders, among them Charles De Gaulle, Henry Kissinger, Harold Wilson and John Paul II.

He befriended nearly all the writers whose works he published and was a constant source of encouragement and inspiration to them. People who worked with him talked of his kindness, curiosity, intellect and generosity.

Weidenfeld was also active in global peace endeavors and a great proponent of dialogue.

In 1992 he married Annabelle Whitestone, a former concert manager who worked with classical impresarios and who was 27 years his junior. Prior to her relationship with Weidenfeld, Whitestone had been the companion of famed Polish-American pianist Arthur Rubinstein, who in 1977 at age 90 left his wife of 45 years and went to live with Whitestone in Geneva.

They remained together until his death in 1982. Whitestone helped Rubinstein to write the second volume of his autobiography.

Lord George Weidenfeld, who left us today, was an ardent Zionist and a great friend of Israel...
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Opposition leader Isaac Herzog mourned the passing of Weidenfeld, saying that he had been a close friend of his parents who he had known his entire life.

"From his youth, when he served at the hand of Israel's first president, Chaim Weizmann, until the end of his long life, George conceived, initiated and promoted plans for the wellbeing, security and defense of Israel and the Jewish people," Herzog stated.

He called Weidenfeld "a wellspring of ideas and creativity" from who he had "gained new insights."

"His extensive achievements in all fields will continue to resonate for years to come," Herzog added.

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