British-Jewish publisher and philanthropist George Weidenfeld, known for funding the rescue of 2,000 Syrian and Iraqi Christians who were being threatened by the Islamic State terror group, died in London on Wednesday at the age of 96.
Weidenfeld, a member of the United Kingdom’s House of Lords legislature, has been devoted to promoting positive interfaith relations. He escaped Austria for the U.K. on the cusp of Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938. In the U.K., he co-founded the publishing firm Weidenfeld & Nicholson and later received the British aristocratic title of “life peer.” Inspired by his past as a Jewish refugee, he was heavily involved with Jewish and Israeli charities, and in recent years funded the escape to Europe of 42 Syrian-Christian families.
“We have been deeply moved by the plight of Christians in conflict-torn Middle East countries, and we are supporting the transfer of Christian families to safe havens where they can lead normal lives,” Weidenfeld told the Times of Israel last year.
“As a bridge-builder, he devoted all of his energy toward issues that are still as topical as ever: the dialogue between the faiths to Europe’s relationship with Israel to European integration. He fought for values and ideals even when he faced resistance,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said of Weidenfeld in a statement on Wednesday, reported the Associated Press.
Member of Knesset Isaac Herzog, Israel’s opposition leader, called Weidenfeld “an avid Zionist and lover of Israel” who as the right-hand man of Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first president, “envisioned, initiated, and promoted programs for the State of Israel, its Jewish character, security, and defense.”
The president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, said he is “deeply saddened that George has left us. He had great wisdom, and he was a friend who always gave me valuable advice. Until the end, his mind was as sharp as ever, and he never retired. George managed to squeeze several lifetimes into one….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. He said he had a debt to repay, and he meant it.”