Israel Kristal, the world’s oldest man who lived through both world wars and survived the Auschwitz concentration camp, has passed away just a month short of his 114th birthday, his family have said.
Oren Kristal, a grandson, said he died on Friday. “He managed to accomplish a lot. Every year he lived was like a few years for somebody else,” Oren told the Associated Press.
Last year Guinness World Records awarded Kristal a certificate as the world’s oldest man.
Kristal was born to an Orthodox Jewish family near the town of Żarnów in Poland in 1903. “When he was a child during World War I in Poland he was a helper for a booze smuggler; he used to run barefoot in the snow through the night many kilometres with a heavy package on his back at about 12-years-old, smuggling alcohol between the lines of the war,” Oren, his grandson, said.
“He used to walk very fast until he was very old – faster than me – and he used to tell me that when he was my age if you didn’t walk fast enough your feet would stick to the frozen ground,” said Oren.
Kristal was orphaned shortly after the first world war and moved to Lodz to work in the family confectionery business in 1920.
During the Nazi occupation of Poland, Kristal was confined to the Łódź ghetto and was later sent to Auschwitz and other concentration camps. His first wife and two children were killed in the Holocaust. Six million Jews were systematically murdered by German Nazis and their collaborators during the second world war.
“He used to tell us whenever we were mourning someone that we should consider that they are being buried in the land of Israel, most of the people he knew did not get to be buried in a grave when they died,” Oren said.
Kristal survived the second world war weighing only 37kg (about 81 pounds) and was the only survivor of his large family. He later married another Holocaust survivor and moved with her to Israel in 1950 where he built a new family and a successful confectionery business.
“He was a very hard-working man, a lot of energy always running from one place to another doing something,” Oren Kristal said. He said his grandfather participated in one of his grandsons’ bar mitzvahs just a few weeks ago.
An observant Jew, Kristal himself only celebrated his bar mitzvah last year, a hundred years later than usual. He missed his bar mitzvah, the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony held when a boy turns 13, because of the first world war.
Kristal is survived by two children, numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, according to media reports.