In these times of fear and contempt, it’s enormously reassuring to be told of an act so noble that it reminds you that all the pain and hatred that dominate our 24/7 news cycle are exceptions to the rule. As Donald Trump’s outrageous persona takes on proto-fascist characteristics and whips up a frenzy of fear and suspicion regarding the incoming Syrian refugees, a Holocaust survivor has shown the world what true compassion really is.
George Weidenfeld, 95, was spirited out of Nazi-controlled Austria in 1938, one year before the outbreak of the war and smuggled to England. Saved by a network of religious organizations who recognized the warning signs and were secretly shipping Jewish children out of Nazi territory, Weidenfeld believes he has “a debt to repay.” To repay that debt, the elderly publisher is funding the rescue of 2,000 Christian refugees from Daesh-held Syria. His fund will also be paying for a year’s worth of shelter and food to the desperate asylum seekers.
His actions are particularly powerful because the Wahhabi* extremists of Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) persecute and murder non-Sunnis with a horrifying casualness. There are reports of blue crosses tattooed on Christians; the systematic extermination of the weak and the elderly, the seizure of all possessions and homes. Kurdish peshmerga (people’s milita) forces liberating Sinjar province report multiple mass graves, one with as many of eighty women in it. The only refuge to be had is in Kurdish territory; fleeing to the Free Syrian Army or to territory controlled by al-Qaeda affiliates like Jahbat al-Nusra only makes them targets for Assad’s barrel bombs and Russian airstrikes. The war in Syria has turned the nation into a hellscape, and there is nowhere to run. It may be years before we truly know what horrors are taking place in the land of the barbarians in black, but Mr. Weidenfeld has just shown to all how much of a difference one man can really make.
* Wahhabism is an ultraconservative and tyrannically puritanical interpretation of Islamic theology that arose in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have been aggressively exporting this ideology across the region, funding and arming rebel groups willing to take up the cause – giving birth to both al-Qaeda and ISIS. Wahhabi imam Seyyid Qutb defined the theological justification for the murder of non-Wahhabi “infidels” (takfiri), which is where the nihilistic indiscrimination and shocking violence that characterizes modern extremism stems from. The Saudi Arabians are largely complicit in the escalation of the Syrian Civil War, and America’s diplomatic relations with Riyadh requires serious reconsideration.