Israel stages Holocaust survivor beauty pageant

Hava Hershkovitz, 79, who had to flee her native Romania, was crowned the winner of the pageant.

A beauty pageant for Holocaust survivors has been held in Israel for the first time, stirring controversy.

Fourteen women, aged 74 to 97, walked along a red carpet in the city of Haifa and described their personal sufferings from the Nazis during World War II.

Hava Hershkovitz, 79, who had to flee her native Romania, was later crowned the winner of the pageant.

Organisers said the contest was a celebration of life, but critics denounced it as offensive.

'Macabre'

The beauty pageant was organised by Shimon Sabag organisation, who said the 14 finalists had been chosen from hundreds of applicants based on their personal stories of survival and their later contributions to local communities across Israel.

Physical appearance contributed only about 10% of the criteria, Mr Sabag was quoted as saying.

The four-member panel of judges finally declared Mrs Hershkovitz as the overall winner on Thursday.

"It's not easy at this age to be in a beauty contest," the silver-haired winner said, according to AP news agency.

"But we're all doing it to show that we're still alive."

However, critics said that judging women who had suffered persecution on physical appearance was inappropriate.

"It sounds totally macabre to me," Collete Avital, chairwoman of Israel's Holocaust survivors' umbrella group told the AP.

"I am in favour of enriching lives, but a one-time pageant masquerading [survivors] with beautiful clothes is not what is going to make their lives more meaningful," she said.

About six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis during WWII, and Israel's annual Holocaust Day is one of the most solemn occasions on the calendar.

Nearly 200,000 Holocaust survivors live in Israel today.

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