IT is July 1939 at a bleak Westbahnhof Station in Vienna. The air is filled with smoke belching from steam trains, the noise of guards’ whistles and the bustle of Austrians going about their daily business.

Among them is Johanna Bluh, an Austrian Jew. She has left her sick husband at home while taking son Erich to the catch a train which will herald the last time she ever sees him.

Clutching a bag with just a few belongings, 13-year-old Erich was about to embark on what he believed was a short adventure to England. However the next time he returned to the Austrian capital, 30 years later, he did so knowing his mother and older brother Otto, who had been left behind in Vienna, had both been killed by the Nazis.

“My grandmother took my father to the platform, put him on a train and waved goodbye knowing it was likely to be the last time she would see her son,” said Rod Bluh. “That takes some kind of courage.”

Rod is well-known throughout Swindon as the tough-talking leader of the borough council. Yet he tells the story of his grandmother and father with emotion in his voice and watery eyes.

It is a tale he has told a few times but one which gets no easier.

This was pre-war Austria. In November 1939, the Bluh family had endured Kristallnacht, known as the Night of Broken Glass, when Jewish homes and businesses in Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia were plundered and destroyed during two nights of violence.

“The family lived above a baker’s shop in Servitengasse in Vienna and my grandfather worked at the central bank,” recalled Rod. “My father told me how the Jewish teenagers found it difficult to get home from school because they were getting beaten up by gangs on the streets.

“He remembered Kristallnacht as being a frightening experience and how life was just so awful.”

In March 1939, Adolf Hitler announced the Anschluss, which saw the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany. By then thousands of Jewish children had fled Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland aboard the Kindertransport.

Religious groups had appealed to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to allow up to 10,000 Jewish children to flee the Nazi occupied countries and stay with foster families in Britain. Rod’s father, Erich, whose family was Slovakian, was among them.

“During the summer of 1939, my grandfather had fallen ill; he had also lost his job. The family had no income, and my grandmother was left to look after her two children; Erich, and my uncle Otto, who had a mental illness,” recalled Rod.

“My grandmother made the decision that my father would have enough problems being in a foreign land by himself, without having his brother Otto with him. So that day at the railway station she sealed his fate - my grandmother must have known what she was doing.

“She so doted on her two children - you sense that from the letters she wrote to my father when he was in England. She writes about her ‘golden boys’ and ‘my dear precious child’. She idolised them, but apparently showed no fear when she took my father to the station.

“He recalled a sense of adventure believing he would be going back home soon. My father had no idea he would never see his family again.”

Erich Bluh travelled by train and boat to England before being looked after by foster families - first at Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex, and in the Rhondda Valley in South Wales.

It wasn’t until 20 years ago that Rod began to piece together the story of his family with the help of a cousin who lives in America.

His father didn’t talk much about life in occupied Austria and his family there until a few years before his death in 2000. Rod travelled to the Austrian capital in 1969 with his mother and father - a journey he retraced 30 years later with his sister. They visited Rod’s grandfather’s grave - he had died through illness - and called at the former family home.

“We visited the flat and knocked on the door,” said Rod. “A man came to the door. My father explained that his family used to live there. He asked the man how long he had lived there, and he replied since 1942.

“My father asked the man ‘you must know what had happened’ and he shut the door quickly.”

In the intervening years, thanks to letters sent by his grandmother, documents from the Red Cross and other organisations, as well as the internet, Rod has managed to piece together the jigsaw.

The Germans were meticulous at keeping records. “When my father left for England, my grandmother was left with Otto and my grandfather, Richard, who was ill,” said Rod. “My grandfather died in September 1939; we think it was some form of cancer or kidney failure.

“My grandmother kept this news from my father. Even in 1941 she wrote to my father that ‘dear Papa and Otto are well’ even though both of them were dead. I think she hoped to tell my father the story after the war.

“Otto was having treatment at a mental hospital in Vienna. The Nazis took him in 1940 and he was never seen again. We believe there were medical experiments going on and we know he died in a gas chamber built in a basement cellar of Linz Castle in May 1940.

“I don’t know how my grandmother managed to live with no income, with her husband dead and her two sons gone.”

Johanna Bluh made her final journey in the summer of 1942, deported in a cattle truck with hundreds of Jews on the 1,000-mile journey to Maly Trostinec near Minsk, in what is now Belarus.

Her fate is unknown. She may have died after being gassed, or may have been stripped, stood in a line along with the other Jews, with their backs to freshly dug graves, and then shot.

Rod believes, however, that she may have perished along with many others on route during the four-day train ride. She died, aged 47, on August 21, 1942.

One of the hardest aspects of recalling the horrors of the Holocaust is that there are few family photographs. Those which were carried by his father to England were lost in a fire, and the only image Rod has is of his Uncle Otto. He explained: “The hardest part is that I don’t know what the family looks like. Without the photos it is hard to feel a true connection.”

As for his father, Rod said he never forgave the Austrian people who, he believed, had betrayed him. For a while, he clung on to the dream that his mother and brother had escaped the Nazis to make a new life in America.

The story of Rod’s family hit home during the Anne Frank exhibition which is being staged at the Central Library until tomorrow.

He talked about the “sheer scale and sheer inhumanity” of it all - not only the Holocaust, but also the modern day of horrors of human cleansing in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

“With the Holocaust you are talking in terms of six to 11 million people and, of those, 1.5 million were children.

“It is a complete degradation of humanity. What sort of people could carry out those acts?

“You can never solve it, but you can fight against it.”