Fall. The Mysterious Life and Death of Robert Maxell, Britain’s Most Notorious Media Baron, by John Preston
, by acclaimed author, John Preston, chronicles the rise and fall of publishing tycoon Robert Maxwell. Born the son of a poor Jewish peasant who scraped and scrimped out a living as a fur and pelt salesman, Maxwell learned at an early age what it meant to eke out a living and still go hungry. Feeling materially and spiritually deprived, he took things that did not belong to him and made them his. That included strangers’ mannerisms, accents, lifestyles, and possessions. In 1939, recognizing the inexorable advance of Nazism engulfing Europe, he changed his religion, nationality, and age. Even his given name was not sacrosanct, changing it from the obviously Jewish, Jan Ludvik Hoch, to the Scottish sounding name, Robert Maxwell.
As a pre-teen he was enrolled in a yeshiva in Bratislava, Slovakia, and despite Yiddish being his native language, coupled with the yeshiva’s narrow secular curriculum, he managed to become fluent in French, German, English, Hungarian, Czech, and Romanian.
During the WWII, he joined the Queen’s Royal Regiment of Britain to fight against Germany. His contributions to the war effort were great, so much so that in 1945, he was awarded the Military Cross by Field-Marshal Montgomery. Unfortunately, his mother, father, grandfather and three siblings were murdered by the Nazis in Europe, along with six million other innocent Jews.
After the war, he married Betty Meynard, a non-Jew, which in later years caused hm to suffer pangs of guilt. But the irony of his regret escaped no one, when years later, his Christian wife started a journal called Holocaust and Genocide Studies and later became a well-respected researcher and scholar in the field of Holocaust Studies.
The lure of political power ensnared Maxwell into the web of politics. To his amazement, he succeeded in his run to become a Member of Parliament. When the Jewish Chronicle
called to congratulate him, he replied, ‘I’m not Jewish’. However, sometime later, when visiting Israel, his Jewish spirit was rekindled, and he donated a quarter a billion dollars to its government. Upon
his death at his request, he was buried on Jerusalem’s Mt. of Olives. Obviously, Israel reignited his long-ago extinguished sense of being a Jew.
Amazingly, Maxwell managed to build a publishing empire, second only to that of his nemesis, Rupert Murdoch. His ownership included both serious and tabloid publications, such as the Pergamon Press, the Daily Mirror, and Daily Mail. But his responsibility for the Mirror Group Pension Fund’s financial scandal brought his empire under the scrutiny of investors, the government, and the public at large. What ensued was his precipitous fall from the pinnacle of success and in the space of three and a half years, he lost his eldest son, his company, his parliamentary seat, and his reputation. As if to put a point on his fall, his daughter, Ghislaine, ended up in prison under suicide watch for procuring underage girls for the infamous Jeffrey Epstein.
Given Maxwell’s rather unsavory history, one would never have expected that on one occasion, Mother Teresa showed up at his apartment and confided that she had brought a message from God for him. Although her message brought a grin to his lips, he simply excused himself and left her to her prayers. She was not the only world-renowned celebrity with whom he rubbed shoulders. Among his acquaintances were Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, President George Bush Sr., President Gorbachev, Prince Charles, Nelson and Winnie Mandela, President of Israel, Chaim Herzog, General Colin Powell, General Norman Schwarzkopf, and former Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
Maxwell’s greed was exceeded only by his need for approval. Therefore, he tried to impress people with material things, such as several lavish residences, a private plane, a personal helicopter and a multi-million-dollar yacht. Also, added to the mix of improbability, were rumors that Maxwell at various times worked for the KGB, the Mossad, and MI6. His personal tastes were as eclectic as were his disreputable business ventures, clandestine associations, and illicit love affairs. Incongruently, he loved Mozart, Gershwin, and Winston Churchill’s speeches.
Unfortunately, his gilded world became tarnished when his financial woes spiraled out of control. Precipitously, everything he painstakingly built suddenly vanished, as did Maxwell, along with investment funds of £736,000,000. The last place anyone thought of looking for Maxwell was paradoxically, where he was eventually found, floating face up dead in the water alongside his yacht, Lady Ghislaine, on November 5, 1991. The cause of his death, although never determined, was suspected to be an accident, suicide, or possibly murder. The final determination of Robert Maxwell’s sudden departure from this earthly clime was that he probably accidentally fell overboard.
Nevertheless, today speculation about his untimely demise is still alive and well.
Originally published in The Times of Israel