‘Miss Holocaust Survivor’ contest held in Israel

The Sideshow

Israel played host to a controversial new beauty pageant, the "Miss Holocaust Survivor" contest, featuring 14 Jewish women who survived World War II.

"I have the privilege to show the world that Hitler wanted to exterminate us and we are alive. We are also enjoying life. Thank God it's that way," Esther Libber, a 74-year-old runner-up in the contest and a Holocaust survivor, told the Associated Press.

The contest, which was held on Thursday in the city of Haifa, was billed as a "celebration of life" but drew criticism over the act of judging aging Holocaust survivors on their physical appearance.

"It sounds totally macabre to me," Colette Avital, chairwoman of Israel's leading Holocaust survivors' umbrella group, told the AP. "I am in favor of enriching lives, but a one-time pageant masquerading (survivors) with beautiful clothes is not what is going to make their lives more meaningful."

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However, pageant organizer Shimon Sabag disagreed with Avital's take. Sabag, who runs "Helping Hand," a group that provides assistance to Holocaust survivors, pointed out that the nearly 300 competitors and 14 finalists were chosen based on their personal stories of overcoming tragedy and rebuilding their lives after the war.

"They feel good together. They are having a good time and laughing in the rehearsals," he said. "The fact that so many wanted to participate proves that it's a good idea."

The 14 finalists were aged 74 to 97. About 600 spectators were in attendance, including two Israeli Cabinet ministers, Moshe Kahlon and Yossi Peled. Seventy-one-year-old Peled is an Israeli general and member of the Likud party and is himself a Holocaust survivor.

The contest's eventual winner was 79-year-old Hava Hershkovitz. "This place is full of survivors. It puts us at the centre of attention so people will care," she said. "It's not easy at this age to be in a beauty contest, but we're all doing it to show that we're still here."