Yisrael Kristal, a Holocaust survivor who was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest living man in the world and one of the 10 oldest men ever, passed away today in his Haifa home, just a month short of his 114th birthday.
Kristal was born to Jewish parents in Poland, then part of the Russian Empire, and had a religious upbringing. A confectioner by profession, he experienced World War I as a child, and World War II as an adult. After surviving the Holocaust, he emigrated to Israel.
During World War II he was confined by the Nazi regime to a Jewish ghetto; his children died in the ghetto, but he and his wife were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Kristal survived the Holocaust, but his wife did not. He remarried shortly after the War and, in 1950, emigrated to Israel with his second wife Batsheva, also a survivor of the Holocaust, and their infant child.
Kristal was born to a religious Jewish family in Maleniec, Końskie County near Żarnów, then part of the Congress Kingdom of Polandof the Russian Empire, on September 15, 1903. His father was a Torah scholar who ensured his son had a religious education, and Kristal would remain religiously observant all his life. He attended a cheder at age three, where he studied Judaism and Hebrew. He learned the Torah at four and the Mishnah at six. In a 2012 interview, he recalled his father waking him at five in the morning to begin his religious instruction.
In 1920, at age 17, he moved to Łódź. After briefly laboring as a metalworker, he found a job in the family’s candy factory. While initially working as a physical laborer, he later became a renowned expert candy-maker. He married Chaja Feige Frucht in 1928, and had two children.
In 1940, after the Germans had taken over Poland during World War II, Kristal continued to manufacture candy, at times secretly and at other times, with the encouragement of the heads of the ghetto, among them head of the Łódź Ghetto Judenrat Chaim Rumkowski. His two children died in the ghetto, while Kristal and his wife were deported to Auschwitz concentration camp during the liquidation of the ghetto in August 1944. Kristal’s wife died in Auschwitz while he worked as a forced laborer and survived. After the camp was liberated by the Red Army, he was taken to hospital, where he returned to his profession and made candies for Soviet soldiers, before returning to Łódź, where he rebuilt his destroyed candy shop and met his second wife, Batsheva. They married in 1947. The couple had a son, Chaim, who was born in Poland, and a daughter, Shula, who was born in Israel.
Life in Israel
In 1950, the family immigrated to Israel on the ship Komemiyut and settled in Haifa. He initially worked at the Palata candy factory, where he was considered an expert and taught the owners to make an entire production line of sweets. He then became self-employed, making boutique sweets at home and selling them at a Haifa kiosk. Among the sweets he produced were tiny liquor bottles made of chocolate wrapped in colored foil, jam made from carob, and chocolate-covered orange peels. In 1952, he began manufacturing his candies at the Sar and Kristal Factory on Shivat Zion Street. After the factory closed in 1970, he returned to making his candies at home before retiring.
Kristal was religiously observant for the remainder of his life, and had nine grandchildren. He also had great-grandchildren, but his family preferred not to state his exact number of descendants for fear of the “evil eye”. After the death of Alice Herz-Sommer in London on February 23, 2014, Kristal became recognized as the world’s oldest known Holocaust survivor (though he was actually older than her).He became the world’s oldest living man after the death of Japanese supercentenarian Yasutaro Koide on January 18, 2016.
On March 11, 2016, Kristal was officially recognized as the world’s oldest man by Guinness World Records. His status was verified after documents confirming his age were uncovered in Poland (formerly, the family’s oldest document was from his wedding at age 25, but Guinness regulations require documentation from the first 20 years of a person’s life to claim the record; the newly found documents were discovered by Jewish Records Indexing – Poland).
Having been unable to do so at the age of 13 due to World War I, Kristal celebrated his bar mitzvah a century later, in September 2016, at the age of 113. O