A life of power and se­duc­tion

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - JULIE CAR­BONARA-LEVY

FOR­MI­DA­BLE THINKER, supreme net­worker, as­tute busi­ness­man and much-mar­ried great se­ducer: Lord Wei­den­feld who died on Wed­nes­day aged 96 was a multi-di­men­sional char­ac­ter whose charm and in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity helped him be­come a force in pub­lish­ing and a friend of the great and the good.

Even af­ter he be­came a favourite with — and part of — the Bri­tish es­tab­lish­ment, he rev­elled in the free­dom that be­ing an out­sider gave him.

He never let ide­ol­ogy — or re­li­gion, for that mat­ter — shackle him: a firm be­liever in bridge-build­ing, he was friends with both Labour and Con­ser­va­tives. And al­though proud of his Jewish roots and a com­mit­ted Zion­ist, he still man­aged to be close to Pope John Paul II.

Arthur Ge­orge Wei­den­feld was born in Vi­enna, the only child of well-to-do par­ents. He read law at the Univer­sity of Vi­enna and at the same time at­tended the Con­sular Academy, a sort of diplo­matic col­lege where he learnt four or five for­eign lan­guages, which would turn out to be a life­line.

In 1938, with the Nazis in power and his father in jail, he left for Bri­tain with the grand sum of 16 shillings and six­pence in postal or­ders.

His luck changed dra­mat­i­cally af­ter his prow­ess with lan­guages got him a job with the BBC as a mon­i­tor.

The last three years of the war saw him in the role of rov­ing diplo­matic correspondent for Europe, re­port­ing on the free­dom move­ments of oc­cu­pied Europe.

One of th­ese move­ments was the Zion­ist Or­gan­i­sa­tion, which is how he got to be­friend Chaim Weiz­mann and be­came his chief of cab­i­net.

Wei­den­feld was very young, didn’t speak any He­brew and had no political ex­pe­ri­ence but, as would hap­pen again and again in his ca­reer, be­ing an out­sider worked for him.

There was a prob­lem, though: a year ear­lier, in 1948, Wei­den­feld had started, to­gether with Harold Ni­col­son’s son, Nigel, a pub­lish­ing com­pany, Wei­den- WithBaren­boimandthe­con­duc­tor’s wife,Ele­naBashkirova,Beirut1991 feld & Ni­col­son. So he promised to re­turn af­ter a year in Is­rael.

Wei­den­feld helped the fledg­ling state of Is­rael es­tab­lish it­self. His wartime ex­pe­ri­ence at the BBC came in use­ful when he mounted a pro­pa­ganda cam­paign, Op­er­a­tion Jerusalem, to per­suade the United Na­tions that the city should re­main in Is­raeli hands.

Back in Lon­don and in charge of W&N, he de­cided to play to his strengths — his Euro­pean lan­guages and con­tacts, which were in­stru­men- tal in procur­ing Gen­eral de Gaulle’s mem­oirs but also Al­bert Speer’s book, In­side the Third Re­ich.

What was per­ceived as a fas­ci­na­tion with Nazi Ger­many — he also pub­lished the au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of Auschwitz com­man­dant Ru­dolf Höss — led to crit­i­cism.

His an­swer to that was that th­ese books were “im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments pro­vid­ing ir­refutable ev­i­dence of the Nazi regime”.

His in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity never waned, even well into his 90s.

He said: “The older I am, the more I think of the fu­ture. I can’t af­ford to sit back be­cause I won’t be there.”

And sit back he never did: al­though he sold W&N to the Orion Pub­lish­ing Group in 1991, he re­mained chair­man. He founded the In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Di­a­logue to bro­ker meet­ings be­tween political and cul­tural lead­ers. He also wrote reg­u­lar col­umns for Ger­man and US news­pa­pers.

Wei­den­feld was chair­man of the Ben Gu­rion Univer­sity of the Negev, gov­er­nor of Tel Aviv Univer­sity, gov­er­nor of the Weiz­mann In­sti­tute, vice-chair­man of the EU-Is­rael Fo­rum, and Trustee of the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery.

He was knighted in 1969 and cre­ated a life peer in 1976, tak­ing the ti­tle Baron Wei­den­feld of Chelsea.

Re­cently, feel­ing that not enough was be­ing done to help Syr­ian Chris­tians flee­ing vi­o­lence in the Middle East, he set up a scheme, the Wei­den­feld Safe Havens Fund, to sup­port them.

He was mar­ried to Jane Sieff, Bar­bara Skel­ton and San­dra Peyson. He is sur­vived by his fourth wife, Annabelle White­stone and daugh­ter Laura.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.