The "Miss Holocaust Survivor" pageant recently came to a close in Israel, with judges crowning a winner from among several elderly women competing in what critics have called a controversial and unusual competition.
The beauty pageant, held in the northern Israeli city of Haifa on June 28, involved 14 women, all in their 80s and 90s, who survived the horrors of the Holocaust in Europe during World War II.
According to the pageant's organizer, the competition is a "celebration of life," allowing the women to tell their life story of survival to the audience.
"They feel good together. They are having a good time and laughing in the rehearsals," Shimon Sabag told The Associated Press.
Sabag is the director of Yad Ezer L'Haver, or Helping Hand, a Holocaust-aid group and the organizer of the pageant.
"The fact that so many wanted to participate proves that it's a good idea," he added.
The event allowed the women to participate in classic pageant acts, such as walking down a red carpet, smiling, waving, wearing gowns and having their makeup done.
About 600 people attended Thursday's event, including two Cabinet ministers, Moshe Kahlon and Yossi Peled, who is a holocaust survivor himself.
Organizers argue that the physical appearance aspect of the pageant has very little to do with judging, even though the event is being sponsored by an Israeli cosmetics company. Others have deemed the pageant offensive, arguing that the Holocaust is an event which should be respected, not capitalized on in a competitive fashion.
"It sounds totally macabre to me," Colette Avital, chairwoman of Israel's leading Holocaust survivor umbrella group told The Associated Press. "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 winner of the competition, 78-year-old Hava Hershkovitz, was placed in a Soviet Union concentration camp after being forced out of her homeland of Romania in 1941.
"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," Hershkovitz told The Associated Press.
Although the women, judging from photos of the event, evidently enjoyed participating in the beauty contest, many continue to be critical of the pageant, arguing that the intention was good, but ultimately misguided.
Holocaust survivor Ze'ev Bar-Ilan of Beersheba, described the event as "an attempt to harness and exploit the harshest blood bath in human history for the purposes of entertainment" in a letter to the newspaper Yediot Aharonot.
Avrum Burg, author The Holocaust Is Over: We Must Rise From Its Ashes, told The New York Times that those opposing the event are struggling "over the strategy of the memory."
"Will it be permanently victimizing ourselves, and whining, whining, whining? Or will it be something else: the something else is the syntax of life, the vocabulary and the lexicon of the Holocaust survivors saying, 'Remember us positively,'" Burg told The New York Times.
The Holocaust was carried out by German dictator Adolf Hitler during World War II, which lasted from 1939 to 1945, and involved the genocide of approximately 6 million Jews in Europe.