Pageant spotlights life, plight of Holocaust survivors

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) in conjunction with the Israeli humanitarian organization Yad Ezer La-Haver (Helping Hand) sponsored the fourth Miss Holocaust Survivor pageant in Haifa last month.

This year 14 women participated in the pageant out of 300 applicants. Hailed as heroines, the beautifully adorned ladies walked down the red-carpeted catwalk lined with photographers and a cheering crowd of almost 1,000 people.

“Tonight we’re letting some women who survived the Holocaust have something that was robbed from them in their youth,” ICEJ spokesman David Parsons told Israeli media. “We want to give something back to them tonight; it’s for them to enjoy.”

The event has been criticized by some as being inappropriate. However, this year’s runner-up, Esther Libber, who was hiding in a Polish forest when she was rescued, had a different take on the event.

“I have the privilege to show the world that Hitler wanted to exterminate us, and [yet] we are alive,” she said. “We are also enjoying life. Thank God it’s this way.”

The 2016 winner was Russian-born 75-year-old Anna Grinis, whose family escaped Nazi Europe when she was a little girl.

“I have no words to describe how excited I am,” she said upon winning.

Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, was present to hug her.

“You all have endured the darkest period in history, and despite everything, you chose life. You chose to raise families, to work, to create and to continue living. You won,” Netanyahu said.

The pageant is a way of honoring those who survived the shoah, and of keeping alive the memory of what happened. Children and young people were among those in the audience. Moreover, the event has drawn attention to the fact that many survivors in Israel live in dire poverty. Discussing the purpose of the event in 2013, Parsons explained to the press: “The pageant focuses not only on what they went through but on what they’re going through now.”

Israel’s Forum for Public Housing announced earlier this month that around 3,600 survivors “are living in shameful housing conditions, because the rental assistance they receive is insufficient and there is no public housing for them.” The UK’s Telegraph reported in January that: “A survey in 2015 found that of the roughly 189,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel, about 45,000 are in poverty.”

Wanting to do something about this, Yad Ezer, in partnership with ICEJ AID, opened a ‘Warm Home,’ in 2014. The home is an assisted living, special facility and sanctuary for Holocaust survivors. There is a waiting list for the home and ICEJ has acquired and renovated buildings on the same street in order to expand the shelter. The Yad Ezer website explains that Director Shimon Sabag decided the home was needed after noticing how many people standing in line at his soup kitchen had concentration camp tattoos on their arms.

“It gave me shivers. I always thought these people had been taken care of,” he said.

ICEJ has stated that help is needed to manage the costs of running the home and for renovating more apartments. Click here to help with this cause.