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A Holocaust survivor pays it forward for Syrian refugees

British publisher Lord George Weidenfeld is helping 2,000 Syrian and Iraqi Christians be funded and resettled.

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    Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate August 11, 2014. Islamic State militants have killed at least 500 members of Iraq's Yazidi ethnic minority during their offensive in the north, Iraq's human rights minister told Reuters on Sunday. The Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, has prompted tens of thousands of Yazidis and Christians to flee for their lives during their push to within a 30-minute drive of the Kurdish regional capital Arbil. Picture taken August 11, 2014.
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Lord George Weidenfeld was a 19-year-old Jewish boy from Vienna when he fled for the United Kingdom. It was the eve of Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938 and Weidenfeld feared for his life. Now, 77 years later, Lord Weidenfeld is personally funding Christian Syrians escaping ISIS.

The 95-year-old Holocaust survivor plans to evacuate and resettle as many as 2,000 Syrian and Iraqi Christians who are being forced to convert to Islam – or face execution.

“I can’t save the world but there is a very specific possibility on the Jewish and Christian side,” Weidenfeld told The Times of London.

Weidenfeld is the founder of a successful British publishing company, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, which he co-founded when he reached Britain in the 1940’s.  The Weidenfeld Safe Havens Fund has been assisting Syrians since July, when they privately chartered a jet that sent 150 Syrian Christians to Poland for refuge. His model is built off the British government pre-World War II mission to rescue Jewish children from the Nazis. 

I had a debt to repay,” he told The Times. “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 a very high-minded operation and we Jews should also be thankful and do something for the endangered Christians.” 

The plan is to relocate at least 2,000 Syrian refugees. But Weidenfeld isn’t bankrolling the entire operation. He’s asked for support from private organizations like the Jewish National Fund in the U.K. 

“We have been greatly moved by the interest particularly from descendants of children saved by the Kindertransport operations,” Michael Sinclair, vice chairman of the Jewish National Fund U.K. told Worldmag.

Support for the project also comes from the Barnabas Fund, a Christian organization that has planned and funded a series of similar rescue missions.

The fund offers refugees 12 to 18 months of paid support to persecuted non-Muslim Syrians, which is one of the world’s oldest Christian communities dating back two millennia when the apostle Paul converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus. Thousands of Syrian Christians have had to flee, and last February hundreds of Christians were reportedly kidnapped by the Islamic State. Many Christian men have left their families to join Iraq’s Kurds in the fight against ISIS.

Still, the dangers remain high for any groups who are not a part of the Islamic State. Last March, the United Nations reported what had become genocide when the Yazidis were tortured, raped, killed and sold into sexual slavery for the Islamic State.

Other countries have taken strong initiatives to bring in more refugees. Canada last month announced it would be letting in 25,000 refugees by the end of the year. But after the Paris attacks, Canada said it would only allow women and children refugees. Relief groups have been overwhelmed by the amount of public support they’ve received.

We have a bit of a queue,” Rob Shropshire, a refugee coordinator for the Presbyterian World Service and Development in Toronto told The Globe and Mail. “People have to be patient.” 

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