Jewish Journal

‘Miss Holocaust Survivor’

Linda Katz

July 11, 2012 | 3:04 am

Beauty is all around us and just because we seek it doesn’t mean we see it. The key is in the definition (of beauty) and the hope and expectation: ‘I’ll know it when I see it’.

There is so much pressure and unrealistic expectations of beauty because of fashion magazines and the silver screen. Then there is, of course, the ultimate celebration and proclamation of beauty: beauty contests, but I won’t criticize beauty contests right now . This post is about celebrating one important, unusual, and very controversial contest: ‘Miss Holocaust Survivor’. 14 women aged 74 - 97 competed on Friday, June 28th, in Haifa, Israel for the crown of most ‘beautiful’ Holocaust survivor. The criteria was (largely) on their survival story and lifetime work. Is a beauty pageant the answer to celebrating these women?

If it reminds us of the beauty of survival and the strength of the human spirit, I say yes. “This place is full of survivors. It puts us at the center of attention so people will care. 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,” the silver-haired Hershkovitz said. (Hava Hershkovitz was crowned the winner!) “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,” added Esther Libber, a 74-year-old runner-up who fled her home in Poland as a child, hid in a forest and was rescued by a Polish woman. She said she lost her entire immediate family.

The pageant’s many critics felt focusing on beauty belittled the gravity of the Holocaust. Others felt the sponsoring cosmetic companies ‘making up’ the contestants were in it for their own gain. I say focus on redefining beauty. I think this is an opportunity to really, finally, understand ‘beauty comes from within’. A BBC listener commented on Friday’s story, ‘I can’t believe people came out of Auschwitz smiling’ (as a contest critique). Based on my chilly October day tour last year, I couldn’t believe people came out at all.

Imagine being able to survive such dehumanizing and horrific conditions, to survive and raise families, contribute to society, build the state of Israel, and have the humor to compete in a beauty contest.

I was and am filled with awe. Survival takes strength. If that’s not beauty, what is? I think about how ‘difficult’ it is to ‘survive’ in today’s economic downturn. In tough times it’s easy to shrug off shows of beauty, diminishing (my own) strength. Imagine holding onto beauty in the depths of your soul in a death camp, partisan forest, or a root cellar. 300 interested contestants obviously survived with strength and dignity. They deserve my respect for their example to primp and preen and flaunt their beauty . There are about 200,000 (aging) Holocaust survivors still alive in Israel. Sadly, Genocides continue. ‘Never Again’. The Holocaust wasn’t just about extermination - it is about miraculous survival. The Nazi’s and their collaborators showed the worst of human nature. Survivors, the best. Survival of the fittest! Winner, Ms. Hershkovitz, beautifully reminds us: ‘We’re still here.’

How do you define beauty? Is this an appropriate way to honor Holocaust survivors? Share your ideas!

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