Illustration by Daniel David Freeman
Everyone loves Holocaust survivors and beauty pageants, so why hasn’t someone combined the two? That was the exact thought of Israeli charity Yad Ezer L’Haver (“Helping Hand”), which in late June held a competition in Haifa to crown a Miss Holocaust Survivor 2012. Organizers cheerily hailed the event as a celebration of life; just about everyone else denounced it as offensive, misguided, and downright creepy.
That said, out of the 300 women who applied, the 14 finalists who made the cut all looked ecstatic in their sashes and tiaras. This year’s Holocaust Queen was 79-year-old Hava Hershkovitz, whom I spoke with a couple days after her big win.
VICE: Hi, Hava. Congratulations on being crowned Miss Holocaust Survivor 2012!
Hava Hershkovitz: Thank you, my dear. I’m still very excited and happy about it—it’s such a good feeling.
How did the judges determine the winner?
We had to walk around on stage, and we got points for things like how we presented ourselves, our smiles, and the feelings we conveyed while we walked around in our dresses. We also had to tell our personal story: where we were born, where we were during the war, and what had happened to our families.
What’s your story?
I was born in Romania in 1933, banished from my home in 1941, and sent to a Soviet Union detention camp in Transnistria, where I had to survive under horrendous conditions for three years. The Germans closed the camp in 1944, though, and straight after that I moved to Israel with a lot of other young people to start our new lives.
That sounds like a winning story to me. Why did you enter?
I wanted to show that I’ve put that past of suffering behind me, and that it doesn’t need to affect my future. The smile that I smiled was for the Germans, to show the world that things have changed. I hope that all men and women will now start to look at Holocaust survivors in a new light, and see that we are happy people.
What do you have to say to people who thought the pageant was offensive?
I don’t think that anybody who wasn’t there has the right to say negative things. All the other survivors and I have suffered enough, and it’s not anyone else’s business to remark on it.
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