Short Portrait: Umar Rolf von Ehrenfels

Umar Rolf von Ehrenfels
Umar Rolf von Ehrenfels

Rolf von Ehrenfels was born in Prague in 1901. His father, Christian von Ehrenfels, was a Professor of Philosophy at the German Prague University and founder of the school of Gestalt Psychology. During the early 1920s Rolf von Ehrenfels lived in Berlin as a freelance journalist and fiction writer.

When converting to Islam in 1927 Rolf von Ehrenfels took on the name Umar. From 1932 onward he studied Anthropology at the Vienna University. He graduated five years later. When Austria became part of the Third Reich in 1938, von Ehrenfels (who was an active Anti-Fascist) migrated to India. There he lived for more than twenty years and held an honorary Indian citizenship.

From 1949 onward von Ehrenfels lectured on Anthropology and eventually took up a professorship at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Madras. He furthermore not only did field work in India several times but also went on a research trip to East Africa in 1957/58.

After his return to Germany in 1961, von Ehrenfels was co-founder of the South Asia Institute at the Ruprecht-Karls-University in Heidelberg. He lectured at the very institute for the following ten years.

Rolf von Ehrenfels died in Neckargemünd in 1980.

(Text written by Vincenz Kokot in July 2012, based on German and English articles at; photo source: