by Rebecca Borison
As the number of remaining Holocaust survivors inevitably diminishes, many have attempted to record the survivors’ stories, through books, videos or other means. Taking a new—and somewhat bizarre—approach to commemorating the survivors, Israeli aid organization Yad Ezer L’Haver has announced that they will be hosting a beauty pageant for female Holocaust survivors. The 65 original contestants, ages 78-92, have been narrowed down to the top 14, and they will now compete for the titles of Pageant Winner, Miss Congeniality and Audience Favorite.
The pageant is set to take place tomorrow. Not surprisingly, it has drawn much criticism and questioning.
In my middle school Hebrew class we were each paired up with a Holocaust survivor to interview. I sat in awe as I listened to this strong woman recall her life story. She looked like your typical bubbie, but she had gone through travails that few others could understand.
To this day, that is the picture I have in my mind: sitting in her living room, listening to her stories. And that, in my opinion, is the most appropriate way to honor Holocaust survivors.
Having Holocaust survivors strut down a runway just seems incredibly inappropriate. How is that honoring their heroic lives? How is that remembering the atrocities they went through? It seems like the beginning of a crude joke.
And to make things even worse, people have been writing the most distasteful comments on the Facebook event for the pageant. Nir Gilboa commented (in Hebrew), “And the 2012 beauty queen of the camp is… number 2434326523.” Alex Polonsky followed in suit with, “They’re always so thin in these competitions.” Others commented that the refreshments would be potato peels and that the winner would be called “Miss Block 6.”
I know that many argue that humor is the only way to deal with such horrifying issues, but I can’t help but feel disheartened by the whole conversation. This is no way to honor our predecessors.
And yet the event director seems unaffected by the responses. He told the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot that they decided to have the pageant “to show that the Holocaust survivors, with all the history they have experienced, are still women who want to celebrate themselves, have fun, and live…If someone raises an eyebrow, let them. We are doing this with a good attitude and pride.”
It just doesn’t feel right to me. If you wanted to celebrate these Holocaust survivors, why not honor them all with a banquet and give them each an award? A beauty pageant though…?