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Rolf John Harding (19 July 1922 - 15 February 2017)

Rolf Harding and escaping the holocaust

photograph Rolf Harding, was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1922. The son of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, Rolf Harding (then Heudenfeld) grew up in Nazi Germany from where, in great danger that was heightened after 'Kristallnacht' (the night of broken glass, 9 November 1938), he escaped on the Kindertransport and settled in England. Some of his family were murdered in the Nazi concentration camps whilst others managed to evade capture.

You can read the graphic account, by his son Phil, of Rolf Harding's early childhood, persecution, escape from Germany, arrest in England for internment when war broke out, expulsion on board the SS Sobieski to Canada for screening in a Prisoner of War (PoW) camp, and return to settle in wartime England.

To read this unique story click the link below:

   'Escaping the Holocaust' (pdf 1.6Mb) - an account of Rolf Harding's childhood and escape from Nazi Germany by his son Phil Harding, MBE. © Phil Harding 2008.

The letter from the War Office of 11 September 1943 declining Rolf's offer of help in the Intelligence Corps is lower down this page.

Rolf (58) & Elizabeth (51) Harding,
Coopersale Vicarage, May 1981.

Rolf (66) & Elizabeth (59) Harding
in Dorset, 1988.


1. A printed copy of this biographical account of Rolf Harding's escape from Nazi Germany is also held by the Wiener Library (Institute of Contemporary History) in London. It is one of the world's leading and most extensive archives on the Holocaust and Nazi era. Formed in 1933, the Library's unique collection of over one million items includes published and unpublished works, press cuttings, photographs and eyewitness testimony.

2. The name Heudenfeld was derived from Heidenfeld, the family name used before the Heudenfeld's moved from Krakow to Hamburg.

3. The family members killed by the Nazis were Rolf Heudenfeld/Harding's paternal grandmother Elise Heudenfeld (née Simonsohn) after her deportation from Hamburg aged 81 to Theresienstadt concentration camp, and her son Siegmund Heudenfeld and his wife Margarethe Heudenfeld (née Wolff) who were both shot on arrival at the ghetto in Minsk, Belarus. Their murder was witnessed by Siegmund's brother Max Heudenfeld who escaped but was subsequently re-captured and sent to Theresienstadt in February 1945 from where he was freed by the allies.

4. Genealogical Information: Rolf and Elizabeth Harding are descended from or related to the following ancestral names (in alphabetical order):-
ROLF: Bochner, Brinkmann / Brinkman, Butner, Cohen, Eggert, Heidenfeld / Heudenfeld, Himmelweit, Hirsch, Hochwald, Keh, Melzer, Schonberg, Simonsohn, Singer, Sobel, Somer, Taffet, Ulbrich, Wolff.
ELIZABETH: Armstrong, Ashton, Barber, Bartholomew, Beaumont, Benbow, Brinton, Chisolm, Christie, Clark, Clarke, Classey, Conner, Day, Elliott, Flynn, Fullstone, Friedel, Gellet, Greenbank, Grierson, Grout, Gunn, Ham, Hancock, Harding (original), Hardy (possible link to Sir Thomas Masterton Hardy of Lord Nelson's flagship "Victory" but as yet unproven), Hayward, Henshaw, Hopper, Horrex, King, Lang, Mack, Neville, Newby, Palmer, Parker, Peters, Pilbrow, Price, Pryor, Pynegar, Rice, Robinson, Ruff, Sill, Smith, Stone, Tilzey, Todd, Turner, Turnock.

5. Rolf Harding was Vicar of Coopersale, near Epping, Essex from 1961-1991 living at Coopersale Vicarage. He was also Chaplain to St Margaret's Hospital, Epping during most of that period.

Offer to spy for Great Britain turned down

Below is the letter dated 11th September 1943 from the War Office to Rolf Heudenfeld advising him that his services were not required in response to his applciatioon to join the Intelligence Corps and use his fluency in German and English along with his knowledge of Germany to support the allies in the war effort to defeat Nazi Germany.

photograph of letter

Theological training, teaching and entering the Ministry

Rolf entered theological training at Oakhill Theological College, Southgate, North London, but the college was closed due to the war. For his war effort, having had his offer to spy for Britain turned down, Rolf held a teaching post at Prestfield Prep School in Shrewsbury where he was a Form Master and taught Latin, History and PE. Rolf then left Shrewsbury and taught at St Michael's Church Missionary Society School, Lympsfield, where he met his future wife, a pupil there, Elizabeth Ashton (they married in 1951).

20th Century postcard of St Michael's School, Limpsfield.

Rolf completed his theological training at St John's College, Highbury, in North London (since renamed the London College of Divinity) and entered full-time Ministry with the Church of England. His first posting was to establish a new church in Harold Hill, Romford, Essex. In 1952 Rolf named the newly built church St Paul's. In 1961 Rolf became the vicar of Coopersale, Epping, Essex, until he retired to Weston, Bath, in 1991, aged 69.

During his time at Coopersale he was appointed hospital chaplain at St Margaret's Hospital, Epping. On retirement in 1991 he continued with hospital chaplaincy work for several years at the Royal United Hospital, Bath.

Rolf's father & paternal grandparents

Rolf's father Henry Heudenfeld is pictured below in Hamburg in 1978 with a photograph of Henry's parents Markus and Elise Heudenfeld. Markus, a 'handler of animal skins' and hat maker by trade, died in 1938 whilst his widow Elise at age 81 was deported in 1943 to Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia where she died.

Henry had a successful exporting business in Hamburg. He escaped the holocaust with his second wife Martha Isaac to Spain on their way to USA but Martha died in Barcelona and he remained there until after the war when he returned to Hamburg where he became a clerk.

Henry Josua Heudenfeld (83) in Hamburg, 1978.

Rolf's maternal grandparents

Pictured below on their wedding day in 1902 are Rolf's maternal grandparents, Karl and Lina Brinkman. They were both originally from Bad Salzuflen (between Hannover and Dortmund). Karl was a carpenter and Lina a dressmaker. Influenced by Lina's business acumen, they both established a furniture retailing business. They looked after and raised their grandson Rolf when his parents divorced in 1930.

During World War II at great risk to themselves they hid their son-in-law's brother Max Heudenfeld in their Hamburg flat after he had escaped from Minsk Concentration Camp.


Lina and Karl Brinkmann on their wedding day in 1902. Lina is wearing black as her mother had recently died.

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   See also: Coopersale Vicarage
   (Rolf Harding's home from 1961-1991)


"Beneficentia est sapientia"

(Kindness is wisdom)

Rolf's mother, Luise Heudenfeld, c. 1929.

Rolf's father, Henry Heudenfeld, 1950.

Rolf (29) & Elizabeth (22) Harding
on their wedding day, Sept 1951.

Rolf Harding (c.30) c.1952.

Rolf Harding (43) & his family
at Coopersale Vicarage, 1965.

Rolf Harding christening his eldest grandson,
James, 1986 at St Alban's, Coopersale.

Rolf & Elizabeth Harding's 4 grandchildren
in 1994: Sam, Sarah, George & James.

© Phil Harding

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