An Admired and much loved United Synagogue minister, the rev Leslie Hardman made his mark on the wider community by virtue of his BergenBelsen experiences. The fact that he went into the nazi concentration camp in Germany with the liberating British Army and was able to report directly, through radio and film, on the unimaginably terrible situation he witnessed, made an indelible impression on public opinion.
His contribution to alleviating the tragedy of the dead, through saying kaddish at the mass burials of 20,000 victims, and to resolving problems of the living, through conducting marriages and encouraging people to trace relatives, had a lasting impact on the skeletal survivors.
His purposeful activity and eloquence in english and Yiddish meant that he reached two distinct and appreciative constituencies.
His 1958 memoir, The Survivors, became an archival source for later researchanddocumentaryprogrammes, leading to major obituaries in the national press and on BBC radio.
Yet the deepest impression was probably etched on himself. Though he never lost faith, he confessed to feeling under severe strain as he questioned how God could allow such atrocities to happen, especially when the perpetrators expressed no remorse or compunction. His unswerving Orthodoxy was allied to a strong moral purpose.
Before he enlisted as an army chaplain in 1942, Leslie Hardman spent his early years first in the South Wales val- leys, where immigrant Jews became shopkeepers to the mining communities, and then Liverpool, whose strong inter-war Jewish community ran a flourishing educational system.
He studied at yeshivah in Liverpool and manchester, while taking BA and mA degrees in Hebrew and Semitics at Leeds University. His first ministerial posts were in Liverpool and St Anne’son-Sea. He married in 1936, on being appointed to the Chapeltown Hebrew Congregation in Leeds.
His long marriage to Josi Cohen, until her death in 2007, was a partnership in pastoral care. rev Hardman knew his Jewish law and practice but he was far more concerned with people, inside and outside his own congregation.
His main post was as minister of Hendon (United) Synagogue from 1946-82, when he retired as emeritus minister and stayed living nearby. He was renowned in his north West London community for his firm authority, courtesy, common sense and decency.
Always his own man, he was a Zionist from his youth as the first chairman of Liverpool Young mizrachi Society, and became vice-president of Herut in Britain. Active in the Soviet Jewry campaign of the 1970s-80s, he refused to follow every latest Orthodox fashion in dress or manners.
His sympathy for rabbi dr Louis Jacobs in the long-runnning schism in the 1960s probably cost him the title of rabbi, through he stayed firmly within the United Synagogue fold.
in retirement he was busy with Holocaust education, for which he was appointed mBe in 1998. He received the BBC Hearts of Gold award in 1993 and an award from the Simon Wiesenthal museum of Tolerance in 1993.
An honorary chaplain to the Forces, he was president of Ajex north West London and served as chaplain to edgware Hospital’s psychiatric unit
He had four daughters. Aviva, the youngest, died in a road accident in israel in 1971. Hilarie, the oldest, died in 2007, nine months before her mother. Hazel and devorah survive their parents, who also had seven grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.
The Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, writes: rev Leslie Hardman was a great man, a good man, a man who dedicated his long life to the service of others and of God. His calm courage and unshakeable good nature made him an outstanding spiritual leader and pastor. Until his last few months, he seemed ageless.
The loss of two of his daughters and his beloved wife made him long to be reunited with them, but not before he addressed the national Holocaust memorial day in Liverpool earlier this year. He spoke firmly and movingly without a note, a living proof of the power of the human spirit.
Rev Leslie Hardman: marked by Belsen