To the strains of the Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive”, 14 elderly women strutted their stuff down the catwalk cautiously, hindered only slightly by the odd dodgy hip.
The fourth annual Holocaust survivors’ beauty pageant, honouring women who lived through the concentration camps and death marches of Nazi Germany, was held in the city of Haifa this week with hundreds of relatives turning out in support.
Lipstick was carefully applied, dresses were elegant and jewellery glittered, but the focus was on giving women who experienced horrors in the early years of their lives a chance to enjoy some glamour and attention as they push into their 80’s and 90’s.
“Tonight we’re letting some women who survived the Holocaust have something that was robbed from them in their youth …we want to give something back to them tonight it’s for them to enjoy,” said David Parsons of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, a sponsor and supporter of the ‘Helping Hand’ group that organised the event.
Rather than being deterred by the bright lights and loud music, the contestants were eager to get stuck in, walking up and down the runway with beaming smiles, with the occasional helping hand from family or other participants.
They ranged in age from 73-year-old German born Malka Gorka whose entire expanded family perished by the Nazis and who came with her parents to Israel in 1948, to 89-year-old Hungarian-born Carmela Ben Yehuda who arrived in British-ruled Palestine in 1945 after surviving the Auschwitz Death Camp.
The winner was Russian-born Anna Grinis, 75, who was two days old when the war started and together with her mother fled the Nazis.
“During my whole childhood and a significant part of my life, when my mother was alive, she always used to tell me about this period that we ran way from Moscow where I was born and there was nothing to eat there. We barely survived,” she said after receiving a tiara and blue-and-white sash.
Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis before and during World War Two. About 200,000 Holocaust survivors now live in Israel, many of them looked after by organisations such as Helping Hand.