A Jewish peer who fled occupied Austria as a child is funding the rescue of up to 2,000 Christians from Syria and Iraq as a way of showing his gratitude to the religion whose members saved him from the Nazis.
Lord Weidenfeld says he has “a debt to repay” to Christians fleeing Isis, because the Quakers and the Plymouth Brethren fed and clothed him and helped him to reach Britain in 1938.
The publisher is spearheading Weidenfeld Safe Havens Fund, which last week supported the flight of 150 Syrian Christians to Poland on a privately chartered plane to allow them to seek refuge, making them the first beneficiaries of the resettlement project.
Having arrived in Britain on a train a year before the start of the Second World War with just a few shillings to his name, Lord Weidenfeld went on to establish the Weidenfeld and Nicolson publishing business a decade later. He was made a life peer in 1976.
The 95-year-old told The Times: “I had a debt to repay. It applies to so many young people who were on the Kinderstransports. It was Quakers and other Christian denominations who brought those children to England.
“It was very high-minded operation and we Jews should also be thankful and do something for the endangered Christians.”
The fund aims to offer 12-18 months of paid support to the refugees.
But the project has run into criticism for its exclusion of Muslims who have also been forced from their homes by Isis, for fear of murder, enslavement or torture.
In pictures: Syria's escalating refugee crisis
In pictures: Syria's escalating refugee crisis
1/20 Syria refugee crisis
A young Syrian refugee stands near jerry cans used to collect water at Al-Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria. The United Nations hopes that political talks between the warring sides in Syria will clinch local ceasefires to allow vital food and medicines to reach millions of civilians
2/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syrian refugees transport small stones for their tents at Al Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria
3/20 Syria refugee crisis
Representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a deeply divided opposition, world powers and regional bodies started a long-delayed peace conference aimed at bringing an end to a nearly three-year civil war
4/20 Syria refugee crisis
A Syrian refugee family rests inside their shelter in Hatay, Turkey
5/20 Syria refugee crisis
A Syrian refugee family from Aleppo crosses the Bosphorus from Uskudar to the European side of Istanbul
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Syria's air force struck rebel-held areas around Damascus and Aleppo as face-to-face peace talks tentatively began in Switzerland
7/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syrian refugees look out from an evacuated house in the Kucukpazar district of Istanbul. Syrians fill houses which have been evacuated for urban development projects. Destitute Syrian refugees who have fled the war in Syria and camps in Turkey are fighting for their lives in different parts of Istanbul
8/20 Syria refugee crisis
Refugees who moved into the houses in Kucukpazar neighbourhood near the historic Suleymaniye mosque, are struggling to live without water and heating
9/20 Syria refugee crisis
A Syrian woman and her child stand inside a building in the Kucukpazar district of Istanbul
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A Syrian boy sits in debris in the Kucukpazar district of Istanbul
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Damaged buildings line a street in the besieged area of Homs
12/20 Syria refugee crisis
People sit around a fire along a street lined with debris in the besieged area of Homs
13/20 Syria refugee crisis
Children cut wood pieces in the besieged area of Homs. Efforts to get food and medical aid into Homs have become a test case on whether peace talks in Switzerland can produce any practical results almost three years into the Syrian conflict
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Boys walk along a street past damaged buildings and vehicles in the besieged area of Homs
15/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syrians stand in a destroyed street following a reported airstrike by government forces on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
16/20 Syria refugee crisis
Rescue teams search for survivors on the rubble of a building following Syrian government air raids in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
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A graveyard in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo
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A view of destruction in Aleppo's ancient Umayyad mosque, in the UNESCO-listed northern Syrian city. The mosque's minaret was blown up during clashes between opposition and government forces
19/20 Syria refugee crisis
Syrians attend the funeral of victims who reportedly died of hunger in the besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus
20/20 Syria refugee crisis
A man holds the corpse of one-year old baby Adbul Jalil Mohamed Hamis wrapped in shrouds, who reportedly died of hunger in the besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus during a funeral ceremony
Countries including the United States have declined to participate in the scheme, which has the support of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Christians, as well as Yazidis, Druze and Shia Muslims are being persecuted by the terror group in Isis-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq.
The Christian populations of both countries have fallen precipitously in the past decade, however, and Lord Weidenfeld defended the project’s narrow focus.
He said: “I can’t save the world, but there is a very specific possibility on the Christian side. Let others do what they like for the Muslims.”
He added that he hoped to replicate the work done by the likes of the late Sir Nicholas Winton, who helped to organise Kinderstransport trains that saved more than 10,000 Jewish children from the Nazis. Sir Nicholas died on 1 July.
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