George Weidenfeld was, in one respect, the saddest of men. There was never any joy for him in solitude. As an only child, he found it intolerable to be alone. Thereafter, he stayed in lifelong flight from the threat of a solitary moment or a placid hour. Even when working at a desk, he could never sit still, keep quiet or cease telephoning. Repose was a horror to him. He was an inveterate party-giver and criss-crossed continents and oceans to attend every reception and dinner that he could. There was never a pause to consider the emptiness of individual ambition and the futility of self-important bustle.
Vienna, in 1919, was Weidenfeld’s birthplace. His father was an insurance salesman. The family could trace a rabbinical lineage back to the 16th century. Once, after showing a chart of his ancestry to David Pryce-Jones, Weidenfeld said, ‘I came from a very famous stock, these are great men, and I’m just a publisher.’ Then he wept.
At the Zionist Congress of 1898, Max Nordau made his famous distinction between ‘coffeehouse Jews’ and the ‘muscular Jews’ who would build the state of Israel. Weidenfeld combined the restless, watchful, gossiping sociability of a Vienna coffeehouse habitué with the toughness and courage of a Holocaust survivor.