Inner beauty was the theme of the second annual Miss Holocaust Survivor beauty contest, as 14 finalists aged 70 to 94 walked down the runway and told their courageous stories Thursday evening in Haifa.

Shoshana Kolmer, 94, who survived Auschwitz and a four-day death march in the snow, was crowned winner of the contest.

Kolmer’s message to the audience was to “study the Shoah and never forget it,” adding that it is important to “pass on the information to the next generation so they never forget there was a Holocaust.”

Kolmer made aliya in 1946 and has since survived rocket attacks on her home during the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

The contest took place at Haifa’s Romema Sport Arena, where about 2,500 people – mostly Holocaust survivors and their families – attended. Haifa Mayor Yona Yahab was also on hand.

Contestants came from Israel, the US, Canada, France, the UK and Belgium to participate in the pageant.

The show was co-sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and Haifa-based Yad Ezer L’Haver, to raise awareness for the needs of Holocaust survivors in Israel.

The ICEJ says there are approximately 200,000 survivors living in Israel, a third of which are living below the poverty line.

The Yad Ezer L’Haver organization assists Israel’s needy, providing homes for about 80 Holocaust survivors who are suffering financially at the Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors.

There, survivors are housed in nine apartment buildings and provided with a dining hall, dental and medical clinics, and a community center where they can attend synagogue and participate in art and music classes.

A panel of judges, including cosmetics queen and former model Pnina Rosenblum and media personality Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes, were in charge of scoring the contestants, with judging weighted mostly on inner beauty and poise.

Fourth-place winner Koka Palmon, 79, said she was honored to participate.

“It’s very exciting to be in this position,” said Palmon, originally from Romania.

“It’s so unbelievable for me at my age to be here, the queen of the beauty contest.”

Palmon said it’s important for young generations to take pride in the accomplishments of Holocaust survivors.

“I don’t want anymore that the youngsters will suffer what we suffered,” she said. “We must be proud. We must tell the whole world we will never experience again the humiliation that we suffered.”

Fifth place winner Margalit Gantz – just nine when she was separated from her family, and survived bombings while hiding in the Budapest ghetto – agreed.

“We want to send a message to the whole world as well that they should see that after we suffered, we built a new home and we overcame [tragedy],” said Gantz, 80, who made aliya soon after the Holocaust.

According to ICEJ executive director Dr. Juergen Buehler, working with Holocaust survivors is “the crown of what we are doing in a way here in Israel because the Holocaust survivors, more than any other group in Israel, represent the whole idea of Am Yisrael Chai.”

Shimon Sabag, founder and manager of the Haifa Home, said that pampering the survivors, who arrived to the event in limos, with fancy clothing and makeup courtesy of Israeli cosmetic companies, helps the survivors feel beautiful and overcome their hardships.

“All women who are now participating were young girls when the Holocaust happened and when they come here and stand on the stage with their husbands and families and their grandchildren, they feel the greatest because it’s their pride that they built families,” he said.

Buehler and Sabag stressed that the contest should not be confused with official beauty pageants like “Miss Israel.”

“Every single contestant tonight literally went through hell – they went through Auschwitz or other Holocaust concentration camps – so in a way it’s a celebration of their survival… and that we can help them,” Buehler said.

“Those who criticize us, we want to tell them please come next year and look for yourself at the faces of the Holocaust survivors, and this will speak volumes.”

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