A Beauty Pageant for Holocaust Survivors?
Posted by Ethan Clow on June 29, 2012
If those words make you shiver with morbid misgivings of bad taste, congratulations, I believe that’s the correct response. Too bad it wasn’t the response from the Shimon Sabag organisation, which organized the event.
Fourteen women who survived the Holocaust, aged 74 to 97, competed for the prize of being named Israel’s first ‘Miss Holocaust Survivor.’
It was billed as a celebration of life, the contestants were selected based on their stories of survival and their impact in their communities. The judges would then decide who was the winner based on who had the most incredible story. So don’t worry, physical appearance only counted for 10% of the final score.
And I’m sure the panel of judges were really qualified as well. There were three former beauty pageant winners and a psychiatrist who treats holocaust survivors.
So, sound like a good idea?
The winner was 79-year-old Hava Hershkovitz, who was banished from her home in Romania in 1941.
The pageant has readily been condemned by various organizations that deal with Holocaust survivors, Collete Avital, chairwoman of Israel’s Holocaust survivors’ umbrella group was quoted saying:
“It sounds totally macabre to me… I am in favour of enriching lives, but a one-time pageant masquerading [survivors] with beautiful clothes is not what is going to make their lives more meaningful,”
Despite the statements from the organizers that this was not about capitalizing on the memory of the Holocaust, most people have been left agape and believing that this was just a terrible decision. It doesn’t help the cause of the organizers when it was revealed that a cosmetics company was recruited to help the women dress for the pageant.
I think the idea of having women tell their stories of survival is great. The Holocaust is often a story without hope. Reality isn’t much like the Hollywood version, it was a dark and terrible side of humanity, not just from the point of view of the victims, but the perpetrators and bystanders each add levels of horror to the story. Having an opportunity to learn about those who survived and went on to help their communities and improve the world is a wonderful ray of light in an otherwise depressing and frightening time.
So why dress up what could be an uplifting story in the guise of a beauty pageant? The whole concept of ranking someone’s horrendous experience like it was a game just seems like a terrible gimmick. “Yes, you survived Auschwitz but… contestant 2 survived Treblinka… oh and she’s also a bit prettier…” Gah.
And seriously? The panel is made up of three beauty pageant winners and one psychiatrist? I’d like to see the results of that psychiatrists last ethics review.
I can understand that the event organizers probably wanted to create a venue to showcase how extraordinary these women are, which is great, as I said before, there can be positive and life affirming ways to remember the Holocaust. But to choose a beauty pageant as the theme? Really?