British publisher Lord Weidenfeld, a Jewish peer who was rescued from Nazi-occupied Austria and transported to Britain by Christians in 1938, has pledged to return the favor by funding the rescue of Syrian and Iraqi Christian refugees who are suffering at the hands of ISIS. He feels he “has a debt to repay,” he told Britain’s The Times.
After the onset of World War II, Quakers and Plymouth Brethren Christians coordinated the safe passageway of members of Vienna’s Jewish community to England. They fed, clothed, and provided the transportation for countless Jews to escape Nazi oppression. Weidenfeld, now 95, was among them.
Born in Austria in 1919, Weidenfeld was appointed the British title of Lord in 1976. After arriving in Britain penniless in 1938, he made his fortune by establishing the publishing business Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
In order to help the Syrian and Iraqi Christians refugees, he is setting up the Weidenfeld Safe Havens Fund, which last week successfully flew 150 Syrian Christians to Poland on a privately chartered airplane, The Independent reported. They are the first of an estimated 2,000 refugees expected to be rescued from the war-torn country that has produced four million refugees as a result of civil war and persecution.
According to The Independent, once the refugees are resettled, Weidenfeld’s program will offer 12-18 months of financial support as they adjust to their new homes.
Weidenfeld told The Times that the “[his debt] applies to so many young people who were on the Kindertransports. It was Quakers and other Christian denominations who brought those children to England.”
He references Sir Nicholas Winton’s Kindertransports, the trains which carried more than 650 children out of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to the United Kingdom from 1938-1940. Winton, who was called the ‘British Schindler,’ died at the beginning of July.
Weidenfeld says he wants to replicate Winton’s heroic acts; however his program has been criticized for excluding Muslims from the rescue effort, a group that is under just as much threat from ISIS as Syrian and Iraqi Christians. According to the Jewish Chronicle, Weidenfeld defended his program, saying, “I can’t save the world, but there is a very specific possibility on the Jewish and Christian side.”
Jas Chana is a former intern at Tablet.