Haifa-based Beauty Pageant “Miss Holocaust Survivor” Will Be Made Into A Documentary

The full article was published in ESRA magazine.

“A Beauty Contest for Holocaust Survivors? Seriously?” I thought when I learnt about the annual pageant for Holocaust Survivors held by Yad Ezer L’Haver, a nonprofit organization which provides assisted living for Holocaust Survivors in Haifa.

No, you did not misunderstand. It is a Beauty Pageant, where the participants take part willingly with joy and anticipation.

A few years ago, Doctor Isabella Greenberg, a renowned trauma therapist who volunteers at Yad Ezer L’Haver, and Shimon Sabag, the founder and manager of the organization, had an idea.

Women who survived the Holocaust are the victims of the darkest chapter of human history. And as young girls, they didn’t have a chance to experience what it means to feel feminine. Their bodies became a battlefield. Now, in the third stage of their life, they are celebrating their story and their beauty, their inner beauty, which did not have a chance to shine before.

Photo courtesy of Yad Ezer L’Haver

What was clear was that the contest did not leave anyone indifferent. From members of the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) to worldwide YouTube influencers, everyone had an opinion about the pageant involving Holocaust survivors.

Meeting Shimon Sabag, the founder of Yad Ezer L’Haver – organizer of the pageant

“We do it every year. Only this year we had to postpone it, everything is ready, and as soon as we are over the corona, we will do it. You will see it yourself. It’s held in the big hall at the Congress Center (one of the biggest public event places in Haifa) with a lot of people, journalists and my beautiful ladies – the Holocaust Survivors. They are on the stage in beautiful clothes, shining eyes, with makeup and their hair done. It is their night; they are the stars of the show. It is davar gadol (“a big thing”, in Hebrew)”, said Shimon.

I went online to learn more , and I came across a teaser of the documentary Miss Holocaust Survivor by German-Polish writer and director Radek Wegrzyn and his Italian business partner, producer Roberto Gagnor.

Meeting the producers of the documentary Miss Holocaust Survivor

The teaser starts with a beautiful scene of a grey-haired lady sitting against a sunset on the beach. This is a “documentary about a unique beauty pageant for Holocaust survivors, where the most beautiful story wins. It is a story of three incredible women, and why we must save their narratives”, as Radek Wegrzyn says in his introduction to the documentary.

Photo courtesy of Roberto Gagnor

A universal story

“We are emphasizing the issue of beauty because we don’t want to make a film “just” about the Holocaust, thus falling in the usual traps of such a film: survivors as victims and just that, forgetting the human aspect in favor of the simply historical one. Most movies about the Holocaust want to make you feel sorry and understand the terrible weight of it, and of course, this is right, this is important. But after the 500th film in that vein, audiences risk being desensitized and going, ‘Oh, yeah, I know about that’. Then you make it less; you trivialize it”, continues Roberto.

The third act

“It’s about never forgetting what happened, and doing so in an authentic, artistic way. Radek is extremely good at portraying deep emotions on film, at understanding people in their happiness and their suffering, so he has the perfect directing ethos and vision for this film. So when we set up Magical Realist, our joint company for documentaries production, we decided it had to be our first film with our producers, with all the economic and artistic risks involved: because it’s a precious story that can’t be lost”, concludes Roberto.

This is a story that challenges the deniers of the Holocaust and everyone else to look at the humanity of the survivors and their willingness to live, fulfilling life beyond their age and “survivor status”.

Photo courtesy of Roberto Gagnor

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