Youngest contestant is 70, oldest is 90. Next week 19 women Holocaust survivors will compete in survivor beauty pageant.
August 18, 2013
It has become a tradition, but it is still hard to get used to the sight. Nineteen senior citizen women standing in a row. Pair by pair, they step to the front of the stage, and take a bow, walk the catwalk and return to the line. The youngest is 70-years-old, the oldest is 94, and the common denominator is a haunting past: all of the contestants in the 2013 pageant which will be held in Haifa are Holocaust survivors.
“It’s amazing to find that even at this age there is jealously and rivalry, just as with 18-year-old models,” says Heli Ben David, who was crowned Miss Congeniality in the 1979 Miss Israel Pageant. Today, she guides the older women all the way to the catwalk. This week, she interviewed women who wanted to compete and heard their difficult stories.
“Because character here is no less important, I hear their stories and it is not easy,” explained Ben David. “Everyone has a very hard story, of life in the ghettos and camps, of hunger and the extreme cold. But from every one, I hear the same sentence: I’m here, and I beat the Germans because I am still alive, I started a family, and I am even competing in a beauty pageant.”
The oldest contestant and one of the favorites for winning is Shoshana Colmar, 94. At the time of her release from the Auschwitz death camp, she weighed 25 kg, and when she takes to the stage next Thursday, she will sing the song she would sing to one of the camp guards, so he would give her more soup. “They killed my whole family,” she said. “We were four children, and I remained alone. Dad, Mom, all the brothers of my parents. My mother had ten brothers and one was left; my father had seven brothers and one remained. And also all of their families. So for me, it is certainly a huge victory to be here.”
While waiting for rehearsals, as their friends are being photographed and interviewed, the other competitors spend their time singing and dancing. “We went from darkness to light, we do not want to remember what was bad then, but only what is good now,” one called out at the end of the dance.
Message via participation
Among this year’s competitors is Hannah Liebmann, 80, from Lod. Because Hannah is blind, her daughter Sarah initiated her participation in the competition and brought her to the first day of rehearsals.
“The message I try to convey in my participation,” Hannah said, “is that we are here. We beat Hitler and established families. I got to see great-grandchildren. And also out of my hardship as a woman who can not see, I try to help not only myself, but also other people.”
Competitor Naomi Isaac, 84, said: “I lived through the war in the concentration camps. The message here is that we are still alive. Though we lost our families, we are still alive and from here, I can say to the world: There were concentration camps, there was murder, and everything that mankind can invent.
Today, the treatment of Holocaust survivors in Israel is not so good. We would expect more, that it would be a little better.” Regarding the competition and rehearsals themselves, she said that age is an issue, “It is not so simple and not so easy at this age.”