"Miss Holocaust Survivor" has been crowned amid controversy over an Israeli beauty pageant criticized as "macabre" by others who lived through the horrors of World War II.
Hava Hershkovitz, 79, who had to flee her native Romania in 1941, was crowned the winner of the pageant over 13 other holocaust survivors aged 74 to 97 in a red carpet event staged in Haifa, the BBC reported.
Organizers of the event, in which the women described their personal sufferings from the Nazis, said the contest was a celebration of life, the Australian Associated Press reported.
Along with contestants' accounts of surviving Nazi ghettos and concentration camps, their later contributions to their communities were also considered, said pageant organizer Shimon Sabag.
Sabag — director of Yad Ezer L'Haver, or Helping Hand, which assists needy Holocaust survivors — said physical beauty made up only "10 percent" of the competition criteria.
However, critics denounced the event as offensive.
"It sounds totally macabre to me," the Associated Press quoted Colette Avital, chairwoman of Israel's leading Holocaust survivors' umbrella group, as saying.
"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."
The AP cited one contestant, Esther Libber, a 74-year-old runner-up who fled Poland as a child having lost her entire immediate family, as saying:
"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."
Hershkovitz herself, a resident of an assisted living home run by Helping Hand, said:
"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."
Sabag said the contest's popularity — nearly 300 women registered to take part — proved its worth.
"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."
About 600 people, including two cabinet ministers, Moshe Kahlon and Yossi Peled, himself a Holocaust survivor, also attended the event.
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