George Weidenfeld, Baron Weidenfeld

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The Lord Weidenfeld
Weidenfeld at a German-Jewish Dialogue
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
In office
25 June 1976 – 20 January 2016
Life Peerage
Personal details
Arthur George Weidenfeld

13 September 1919
Vienna, Austria
Died20 January 2016(2016-01-20) (aged 96)
London, England
NationalityAustrian, British
Political partyLabour (until 1981)
SDP (1981–88)
'Continuing' SDP (1988–90)
Jane Sieff
(m. 1952; div. 1955)
(m. 1956; div. 1961)
Sandra Payson Meyer
(m. 1966; div. 1976)
(m. 1992)
ChildrenLaura Weidenfeld
Parent(s)Max and Rosa Weidenfeld

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[1] 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.[2]

Early life[edit]

Weidenfeld was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1919.[3] He was born to an Austrian-Jewish family, the only son of Max and Rosa Weidenfeld.[1] 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, with limited English and a 16/6d postal order (approximately £32.46 in 2019).[4] He began work with the monitoring service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).[3]


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.[5] In 1949, Weidenfeld served for a year as the political adviser and Chief of Cabinet to Chaim Weizmann, the first President of Israel.[5] In that role, Weidenfeld launched a campaign to convince the world that Israel should keep western Jerusalem.[6] The city had been divided between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan after the two sides signed an armistice agreement earlier in the year.

Publishing career[edit]

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.[5] 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[3] 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, founded as The Club of Three[7][8] in the 1990s, was established along with the Weidenfeld Scholarships and Leadership Programme at Oxford and, in 2010, he founded the Humanitas Programme of visiting chairs at Oxford and Cambridge.


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 co-founded the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust[9] at Oxford University, one of the largest post-graduate scholarship programmes at Oxford. He also established the "Weidenfeld Safe Havens Fund", which intends[needs update] to support Christians fleeing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,[10] although its focus on Christians has caused some criticism.[11]

Awards and honours[edit]

Weidenfeld became a British citizen in 1947,[12] was knighted in 1969,[13] and created a life peer on 25 June 1976 taking the title Baron Weidenfeld, of Chelsea, London.[14] Originally taking the Labour whip, in 1981 he defected to the Social Democratic Party (becoming their arts spokesman in the Lords), and following the SDP's merger with the Liberals in 1988 opted to join David Owen's 'continuing' SDP.[15][16] He was appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE) in the 2011 New Year Honours for public service.[17]

Further honours included honorary fellow of St Peter's College, Oxford, honorary fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford, honorary 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 was appointed Knight Commander Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (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 Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (2005) and the Order of Merit of Baden-Württemberg (2008). The Bene Merito honorary badge was awarded by the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs 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.

Personal life[edit]

With Molly Parkin at a party for After Dark in 1991
With Henry Kissinger at the International Bertelsmann Forum in 2006

Weidenfeld married Jane Sieff in 1952, daughter of Israel Sieff, Baron Sieff[18] who was a part of the family that controlled Marks and Spencer. Before their divorce in 1955[19] they had a daughter,[20] Laura Weidenfeld (b. 1953).

After their divorce, he married Barbara Skelton (1916–1996), the English memoirist, novelist and socialite, in 1956, who had previously been married to Cyril Connolly.[21]

His third marriage was to Sandra Payson Meyer (1926–2004) in 1966.[20][22] She was the daughter of Americans Charles Shipman Payson and Joan Whitney, of the Whitney family.[23][24][25] They divorced 10 years later in 1976.[19]

His fourth and final marriage was to Annabelle Whitestone (born c. 1946),[26] who was 26 years his junior, in 1992. They remained married until his death in 2016.[3][27]

He was a staunch supporter of Israel and was described as an "adamantine Zionist". Among his friends were politicians Angela Merkel and Kurt Waldheim.[28]

He died in London on 20 January 2016, aged 96[29][1] and was honoured with burial on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.[30][28]


Coat of arms of George Weidenfeld, Baron Weidenfeld
A demi-wolf reguardant Sable holding in its mouth a scroll Argent.
Per fess Or and Vert a fess embattled Argent masoned Proper overall a weeping willow eradicated.
Dexter an old man Proper bearded Argent habited in a gown and cap Sable supporting in his exterior hand a tablet Proper sinister a youth Proper habited in a blouse Argent and breeches Or boots and peaked cap Sable a rapier the scabbard Sable.
Cedant Arma Togae (Arms Must Yield to the Gown)[31]

Published works[edit]

  • Remembering My Good Friends: An Autobiography. New York City: HarperCollins. 1995. ISBN 0-06-017286-X – via Internet Archive.


  1. ^ a b c Alan Cowell (21 January 2016). "George Weidenfeld, British Publisher of Lolita and London Fixture, Dies at 96". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Gross, Tom (20 January 2016). "A marvellous conversationalist who befriended them all". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d Oliver Marre,"A man whose life has been an open book", The Observer, 28 June 2009.
  4. ^ "Lord Weidenfeld". Desert Island Discs. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  5. ^ a b c Pollard, Stephen (23 July 2015). "Lord Weidenfeld: It's far easier being 95". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  6. ^ Sebag Montefiore, Simon (2011). Jerusalem: The Biography (1st American ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 578. ISBN 978-0-307-59448-8. OCLC 763182492. Weizmann's chief of staff, George Weidenfeld, a young Viennese who had recently founded his own publishing house in London, launched a campaign to convince the world that Israel should keep west Jerusalem.
  7. ^ Europaeum. "Weidenfeld Institute for Strategic Dialogue". Archived from the original on 4 October 2008.
  8. ^ Danny Fortson (7 September 2007). "Bonfire of the vanities". The Independent. Archived from the original on 20 April 2013. ...the Club of Three, which despite the forboding [sic] name is a non-profit outfit dedicated to promoting 'broader understanding of political, social and economic developments within and between the three countries'. It does so by convening meetings in different European capitals of businessmen, academics and journalists from the UK, France and Germany.
  9. ^ "About the Trust". Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust. Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  10. ^ "British Jew who fled Nazis funds rescue of Christians fleeing ISIS" in Haaretz, 16 July 2015.
  11. ^ Danny Wiser, "Jewish peer who fled Nazis funds operation to rescue Syrian and Iraqi Christians", Catholic Herald, 15 July 2015.
  12. ^ "No. 38019". The London Gazette. 18 July 1947. p. 3371.
  13. ^ "No. 44984". The London Gazette. 9 December 1969. p. 12245.
  14. ^ "No. 46949". The London Gazette. 29 June 1976. p. 8999.
  15. ^ "Obituary: Lord Weidenfeld", The Daily Telegraph, London, 21 January 2016, p. 25.
  16. ^ Sheila Gunn, "Diamond refuses to yield ground". The Times, 15 March 1988, p. 4.
  17. ^ "No. 59647". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2010. p. 6.
  18. ^ Oliver Marre (27 June 2009). "Oliver Marre talks to George Weidenfeld, a man whose life has been an open book". The Guardian.
  19. ^ a b Pick, Hella (20 January 2016). "Lord Weidenfeld obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  20. ^ a b "British Publisher and Mrs. Meyer Will Be Married; George Weidenfeld to Wed Niece of John Hay Whitney". The New York Times. 14 July 1966. Retrieved 29 August 2023.
  21. ^ Hoare, Liam (20 January 2016). "George Weidenfeld, Inspirational Holocaust Survivor Who Funded Rescue of Christians From ISIS, Dies at 96". The Forward. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  22. ^ "Mrs. Meyer Is Wed to London Publisher". The New York Times. 30 July 1966. Retrieved 29 August 2023.
  23. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (25 July 2004). "Sandra Payson, 78, Influential Arts Patron". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  24. ^ "George Weidenfeld". Archived from the original on 23 July 2015. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  25. ^ Nemy, Enid (21 December 1976). "There Was Hardly Room to Admire Stars". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  26. ^ Harvey Sachs Rubinstein: A Life (1995), p. 84.
  27. ^ Elizabeth Grice (24 February 2005). "In each of us, there's an element of snobbery". The Daily Telegraph.
  28. ^ a b "Obituary: George, Baron Weidenfeld, publisher and philanthropist". The Economist. 27 January 2016. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
  29. ^ Schudel, Matt (20 January 2016). "George Weidenfeld, British publisher of Lolita', politicos & a pope, dies at 96". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 21 January 2016.
  30. ^ "George Weidenfeld: The Dueling Cavalier Who Fought for Good and Compassion".
  31. ^ Debrett's Peerage. 2003. p. 1648.

Further reading[edit]

  • Richard Abel and Gordon Graham, eds., Immigrant Publishers: The Impact of Expatriate Publishers in Britain and America in the 20th Century, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Transaction Publishers, 2009; Routledge, 2017.
  • Harding, Thomas (2023). The Maverick. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 9781474621090.

External links[edit]