Yisrael Kristal, a Holocaust survivor who was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records to be the world’s oldest man and one of the ten oldest men who ever lived, passed away today in his home in Haifa. He was one month shy of his 114th birthday.
He was born in Maleniec, Poland, on September 15, 1903. His father was a Torah scholar, and Yisrael was sent to the Cheder when he was three, to follow in his father’s footsteps. Life had other plans: His mother died in 1910, and in 1914, when Yisrael was 11, World War I broke out. When Kaiser Franz Joseph drove through the streets of his town in a car, throwing sweets and waving at the children, Kristal was there to wave back. His father, however, was soon recruited by the army and died in the war.
Moving to Lodz when he was 17, Kristal found work in a candy factory, and soon proved himself as an expert candy-maker. He married Chaja Feige Frucht in 1928, and had two daughters. He continued to manufacture candy, sometime secretly, even after the Nazis took over and forced all of Lodz’s Jews into the ghetto. Both of his children perished there. In 1944, when the ghetto was liquidated, Kristal and his wife were both deported to Auschwitz. Chaja Feige died shortly thereafter, but Yisrael survived, working as a forced laborer. When the Red Army liberated him, he thanked the Soviet soldiers by making them candy. He returned to Lodz, rebuilt his old candy shop, and met another woman, Batsheva, who he married in 1947. The couple had a son, Chaim, and a daughter, Shula.
In 1950, Kristal and his family emigrated to Israel. They settled in Haifa, and Kristal found work at the Palata candy factory. A proud artisan, he soon went in to business for himself, making his own sweets at his home kitchen and selling them at a local kiosk. Some of his innovations were firsts for the Jewish state: jam made from carob, chocolate-covered orange peels, and, most famous of all, tiny bottles of liquor, made of chocolate and wrapped in tinfoil. He continued to work as a candy-maker until his retirement, and was a religiously observant grandfather of nine.
Last year, he made headlines when he realized an old dream and celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, 100 years later. Huddling under his tallis with his family, Kristal quipped about being the world’s oldest tefillin-laying person. Then, he got serious. “Here’s one person,” he said, “and look how many people he brought to life. As we’re all standing here crowded under my tallis, I’m thinking, ‘six million people. Imagine the world they could’ve built.’”
When Guinness World Records informed him that he was now the world’s oldest man, in March of 2016, he replied “Simchat Zkenti,” which literally means “my old woman’s joy” and may be translated as “I couldn’t care less.” He had no secrets to longevity, he told Haaretz; it was all dumb luck. But when asked to comment on how the world has changed during the past century, Kristal was very clear.
“The world has gotten much worse,” he said. “These days, everything is permitted. It used to be that young people didn’t have the chutzpah they have today. Now, everything is easy, no one has to labor manually like we used to. When I grew up, you had to think about your profession and your livelihood. We had tailors and carpenters. Today everyone’s in high tech.”