Hava Hershkovitz, 79, fled her native Romania as a child to escape the Nazis during World War II. Her tale of survival, and her later contributions to local communities across Israel, helped her top 13 other finalists this week to win Miss Holocaust Survivor 2012.
"It's not easy at this age to be in a beauty contest," Hershkovitz said. "But we're all doing it to show that we're still alive."
The pageant is the first -- and likely the last -- of its kind, and has stirred up quite the global controversy. Critics argue that judging women who had suffered persecution on physical appearance was inappropriate.
"It sounds totally macabre to me," said Collete Avital, chairwoman of Israel's Holocaust survivors' umbrella group. "I am in favor of enriching lives, but a one-time pageant masquerading [survivors] with beautiful clothes is not what is going to make their lives more meaningful."
Nearly 200,000 Holocaust survivors live in Israel today. The country's annual Holocaust Day is among the most solemn occasions on their calendar.