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World’s Oldest Man, a Holocaust Survivor, Dies at 113

Candy maker Yisrael Kristal survived Auschwitz and celebrated his bar mitzvah 100 years after turning 13

Yisrael Kristal receiving his Guinness certificate (Guinnes World Records)
smithsonian.com

Last Friday, Yisrael Kristal, a Holocaust survivor and the world’s oldest man died in Haifa, Israel, at the age of 113, just one month shy of celebrating his 114th birthday, reports Ofer Aderet for Haaretz. Yisrael was born on September 15, 1903, in Zarnow, Poland. Just last March, on his 112th year and 178th day on earth, Guinness World Records certified Kristal as the world’s oldest man.

It’s something of a miracle that Kristal lived as long as he did. Kristal, who grew up in a Jewish Orthodox household, was separated from his parents at the age of 11 during World War I and was eventually orphaned, reports Guinness. During the war, the Associated Press reports, the preteen survived by smuggling booze; he carried heavy packages of illicit alcohol to soldiers on the front lines, sometimes running miles barefoot through the snow.

In 1920, at the age of 17, he moved to the city of Lodz. He got a job at a candy factory and, soon enough, started a family of his own. Then, in 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. All Jewish and Roma people in Kristal's area were forcibly relocated to the Lodz ghetto. The following year, Kristal was shipped to Auschwitz. While he survived years of hard labor in the camps, his wife, Chaja Feige Frucht, and his two children were murdered in the Holocaust.

When Kristal was liberated by the Red Army, he weighed just 81 pounds. According to Liel Leibovitz at Tablet, Kristal celebrated by making candy for his Soviet liberators. He remarried in 1947 and along with his new wife, fellow Holocaust survivor Batsheva and their infant, they emigrated to the newly formed state of Israel in 1950. There, they settled in Haifa where Kristal resumed making and selling candies.

According to Aderet, certifying Kristal as the world’s oldest man was difficult since he did not have much official documentation. Haaretz as well as the Gerontology Research Group and Jewish Records Indexing-Poland helped him track down his 1928 wedding certficate, a list of residents of Lodz in 1918 and a list of Auschwitz deportees, all of which helped confirm his age.

Though he was a very devout Jew, as a young man, Kristal never had a chance to celebrate his bar mitzvah—the ceremony signifying the transition to adulthood that usually takes place at age 13 in the Jewish tradition—due to the outbreak of World War I. Last year, among his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he finally took part in the milestone at age 113, the AP reports.  

Kristal told Guinness last year that he didn't believe there was a secret to longevity: “I don’t know the secret for long life. I believe that everything is determined from above and we shall never know the reasons why. There have been smarter, stronger and better-looking men then me who are no longer alive. All that is left for us to do is to keep on working as hard as we can and rebuild what is lost."

Aderet reports that Guinness is currently reviewing its records and contacting the gerontology community to find the current oldest-living man. The oldest-living human is currently Jamaica’s Violet Brown, who is 117. The oldest-living man ever recorded is Jiroemon Kimura of Japan, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 116 years, 54 days.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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