Fourteen women who survived the Nazi genocide in World War II took to the pageant stage before a packed hall in the city of Haifa last week. Each of the contestants shared a bit of their personal stories before the crowd before one was crowned the winner.
An event that touched some for giving Holocaust survivors the chance to forget their suffering, however, has angered many on grounds that it cheapened the memory of the 6 million Jews killed in the genocide.
“It sounds totally macabre to me,” Colette Avital, chairwoman of Israel’s leading Holocaust survivors’ umbrella group, was quoted in Israel’s daily, Haaretz as saying.
“Why should a decayed, competitive institution that emphasizes women’s appearance be used as inspiration, instead of allowing them to tell their story without gimmicks?” wrote Gal Mor, editor of the Israeli blog Holes in the Net. “This is one step short of ‘Survivor-Holocaust’ or ‘Big Brother Auschwitz.’ It leaves a bad taste. Holocaust survivors should be above all this.”
But the pageant did not anger everyone. Many described it as a self-image boost for aging survivors, some of whom have fallen into a life filled of poverty.
Shimon Sabag, director of Helping Hand, a private group that aids thousands of the estimated 200,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel, said the contest held on Thursday had been so successful he may hold a similar event next year.
“They feel good together. They are having a good time and laughing in the rehearsals,” Sabag told Haartez. “There were 1,000 survivors there who enjoyed the event. People don’t have to see Holocaust survivors mainly as a group of wheelchair-bound victims.”
The contest winner, silver-haired Romanian-born Hava Hershkovitz, 79, appeared happy as a tiara was placed on her head. She said the victory was “her revenge, showing how despite the horrors her family went through, her beauty and personality have endured,” said Shabag.
“We should never forgive and forget what they went through, but I find this a very constructive way to show these people remain beautiful,” he added.
Hershkovitz, one of hundreds of survivors in an assisted living facility sponsored by Sabag’s group, won a family weekend at a resort and all 100 contestants were issued with electronic distress buttons.