Off the main hall of Vienna’s Westbahnhof there is a statue in bronze of a small Jewish boy sitting on a suitcase. He has a straight fringe and an anxious expression and one of his socks is falling down. Westbahnhof is the station from which Jewish children left on the Kindertransport for England between 1938 and 1939. It was also here that Julian Borger’s father, Robert, was put on a train to safety at the age of eleven. Robert was not a Kindertransport child. Rather, his parents had placed an advertisement in the Manchester Guardian on 3 August 1938 asking for a ‘kind person’ to take in and educate their ‘intelligent boy’. It was answered by Nancy and Reg Bingley in Caernarfon, Wales, who sent a smiling photograph of themselves attached to their letter of welcome.
Robert killed himself in 1983, leaving a wife and four children. ‘To be pathetic’, he had written in his suicide note, ‘is the ultimate sin.’ A lecturer in psychology at Brunel University and prone to depression, he had been passed over for a professorship he believed would be his. His son Julian grew up to be a much-respected foreign correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner. Discovering the advertisement in the Manchester Guardian was, he writes, like receiving a ‘telegram’ from another age. It sent him off on a quest to make sense of his father’s life.
Robert was not the only child to be advertised that day, alongside radio programmes, musical instruments and houses for sale. Also advertised were fourteen-year-old George Mandler and Gertrude Batscha, ‘well-mannered, able to help in any household work’, and ‘two very modest’ sisters, ‘half orphans, well trained’. Using his skills as