By Alexis Herr
Shoshana Kolmer, an Auschwitz death camp survivor, won this year’s Holocaust Survivor Beauty pageant hosted by the International Christian Embassy in Haifa, Israel. Mrs. Kolmer beat out eighteen other Holocaust survivor finalists to claim the crown. The “Miss Holocaust Survivor Beauty Pageant” has received criticism and praise, but for its participants it is an excuse to transcend past trauma and celebrate life.
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) describes itself as “a global ministry representing churches, denominations and millions of Christians worldwide who share a love and concern for Israel and who seek to repair the historic breach between the Church and the Jewish people.” Headquartered in Jerusalem, ICEJ has branch offices in over 70 nations and reaches out to more than 140 countries. ICEJ’s Israel office helps to finance and support elderly Holocaust survivors. In late June the Municipality of Haifa recognized ICEJ for funding Israel’s largest assisted-living facility. Several of the contestants in this year’s beauty pageant came from the Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors funded by the ICEJ.
Makeup artists and stylists volunteered their time and pampered each of the finalists. Each contestant had an opportunity to share her wartime experiences and speak to the life and family she built in Israel. Last year’s winner, Chava Hershkowitz, described her experience saying, “It has been really good for me to be here. It is good for me to keep busy, because then I don’t think so much about the past. If I don’t do anything, it all comes back to me.”
Some individuals, such as Dalia Sivan and Martin Auerbach of Amcha (an Israeli center offering psychosocial support for survivors and their families) have criticized the sensational dimension of the pageant, but to the contestants it is an opportunity to feel beautiful and share their stories.