A 75-year-old Russian-born Israeli woman on Sunday was crowned the country’s fifth “Miss Holocaust Survivor” in an unconventional beauty pageant dedicated to women who survived the horrors of World War II.
Anna Grinis, who was just two days old when the war broke out, escaped Nazi-occupied Europe with her mother as a young girl.
“I have no words to describe how excited I am,” Grinis said after her crowning, according to the Walla news website.
Nearly 300 Israeli Holocaust survivors registered for the competition; contestants were whittled down to the 14 finalists who competed Sunday.
The annual competition is organized by Yad Ezer L’Haver, or Helping Hand, an organization dedicated to assisting needy Holocaust survivors in Israel.
The event on Sunday included a lavish dinner and music at a Haifa reception hall. About 1,000 people attended, including Knesset members, Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav and Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“You all have endured the darkest period in history, and despite everything, you chose life. You chose to raise families, to work, to create and to continue living. You won,” Netanyahu said at the crowning.
Sunday’s pageant was also host to the first performance of a new women’s choir made up of Holocaust survivors.
The troupe, who members have an average age of 91, sang songs about surviving the ghettos of Europe during the Holocaust.
According to Helping Hand director Simon Sabag, the choir is the oldest singing ensemble known in the world. He called their performance “a very moving moment for me.”
Nazi Germany’s slaughter of 6 million European Jews during World War II plays a unique role in Israeli society. Israel gained independence in the wake of the Holocaust, serving as a refuge for hundreds of thousands of Jews who survived the Nazi genocide. Today, some 200,000 aging Holocaust survivors live in Israel.