Richard Nelsson, the Guardian’s information manager and archivist, emailed me a picture of the ad in January. Its existence had been the subject of family myth, but I had never seen it before. Its emotive impact took me by surprise – three lines of anguish, from parents willing to give up their only child in the hope he would be safe. The Nazi annexation of Austria, the Anschluss, had taken place five months before my father’s ad was placed, while the Nuremberg race laws had been imposed in May, stripping Jews of basic rights. Groups of Nazi Sturmabteilung, the brownshirted SA, had free rein in Vienna to beat and humiliate Jews.
My father was identified as a Jew by his classmates and at one point was grabbed by an SA gang, who locked him inside the local synagogue. My grandfather Leo, who owned a radio and musical instrument shop, was summoned to Gestapo headquarters to register. He was ordered, like other Viennese Jews, to get down on his hands and knees and wash the pavement, in front of jeering crowds.