When the Pope needed help, he called up Ge­orge

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - TOM GROSS

GE­ORGE WEI­DEN­FELD was still so in­tel­lec­tu­ally sharp and in­sight­ful at the age of 96 that we all thought he would live for ever.

In our most re­cent meet­ing a few weeks ago, Ge­orge not only out­lined highly imag­i­na­tive pro­pos­als and pre­dic­tions for the fu­ture of the world, but (the Bri­tish of­fi­cial se­crets act pro­hi­bi­tion on re­veal­ing se­crets hav­ing re­cently been lifted) he re­vealed some of the re­mark­able ad­di­tional work he did on be­half of Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence against the Nazis dur­ing the war.

There will no doubt be many obituaries of him but I doubt they will quite be able to con­vey the full breadth of Ge­orge’s tal­ents and his im­pact glob­ally, es­pe­cially be­hind the scenes. For at least the past six decades, Ge­orge knew ev­ery- one of in­flu­ence one could imag­ine.

At his din­ner par­ties in his sump­tu­ous Chelsea apart­ment, one would not only meet for­mer heads of Is­raeli and Ger­man in­tel­li­gence, or US sen­a­tors, but also world fa­mous com­posers and film stars — and, of course, dis­tin­guished au­thors. In pre­vi­ous decades, one might have sat next to Jascha Heifetz or Leonard Bern­stein or Vladimir Nabokov, all of whom were close to Ge­orge. Now it would be Daniel Baren­boim or Mur­ray Per­ahia.

And age was no hin­drance. Less than two months ago he flew to New York for a se­ries of meet­ings with Henry Kissinger and oth­ers. Un­til a week or so ago, he wrote a reg­u­lar col­umn for the lead­ing Ger­man pa­per Die Welt.

Ge­orge was on good terms not only with political friends, but with “en­e­mies” too, though he did not agree to help ev­ery­body.

I re­mem­ber when, in the 1980s, he told me that an old school friend from pre-war Vi­enna called him up to ask for his help. Would Ge­orge please put in a

Tom Gross with his friend, Ge­orge good word on his be­half with the two ro­tat­ing Is­raeli prime min­is­ters of the day, Yitzhak Shamir and Shi­mon Peres, as well as with the head of the World Jewish Congress?

His for­mer school friend had been ex­posed as a Nazi and sought Ge­orge’s help in an at­tempt to avoid be­com­ing a per­sona non grata. The friend? The for­mer UN Sec­re­tary- Gen­eral Kurt Wald­heim.

Then there was the dis­pute be­tween the Catholic Church and in­ter­na­tional Jewish lead­ers af­ter Carmelite nuns set up a con­vent in the for­mer Zyk­lon B gas store­house at Auschwitz. Who did Pope John Paul II turn to in an ef­fort to me­di­ate rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­hind the scenes? None other than Wei­den­feld, who suc­cess­fully helped shep­herd a res­o­lu­tion to the dis­pute. The con­vent re­lo­cated out­side the camp.

Ge­orge was also a dear friend to many far less im­por­tant per­sons, such as my­self. He was sweet to me as a child (he was a close friend of my par­ents) and sup­port­ive of me as an adult.

Un­til the end, he was a mar­vel­lous con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist. The great Rus­sian­born pi­anist Evgeny Kissin tells me that he had a short chat on the phone with Ge­orge — in Ger­man — just hours be­fore he died. Tom Gross is a jour­nal­ist and com­men­ta­tor spe­cial­is­ing in the Middle East and hu­man rights

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