Wisdom of the Ages: Israel Kristal, Holocaust Survivor, Dead at 113

 In Foreign, History

The Guinness Book of World Records recorded Israel Kristal as the “world’s oldest man.” He passed into history on Friday at the age of 113 in his beloved Israel, just one month away from his 114th birthday. Israel Kristal was a survivor of Auschwitz. He had been orphaned during WWI.

Born in 1903 in Zarnow, Poland, Kristal moved to Lodz at the age of 17 and started a candy factory. But in 1940, he was deported to Auschwitz. There his first wife and two children were murdered by the Nazis. But life in the concentration camp was not something he cared to think about or share.

“Two books could be written about every single day there.” He once told Haaretz.

The Auschwitz complex was the largest of the Nazi concentration-extermination centers. There were three camps established near the Polish city of Oswiecim, along with several subcamps.

The casualties of this complex were enormous: “Jews (1,095,000 deported to Auschwitz, of whom 960,000 died); Poles (147,000 deported, of whom 74,000 died); Roma (23,000 deported, of whom 21,000 died); Soviet prisoners of war (15,000 deported and died); and other nationalities (25,000 deported, of whom 12,000 died). It is estimated that the SS and police deported at least 1.3 million people to the Auschwitz complex between 1940 and 1945. Of these, the camp authorities murdered approximately 1.1 million.” (US Holocaust Museum)

Auschwitz I, where Kristal was taken in 1940, had a gas chamber and crematorium, what was known as the “black wall”- where prisoners were lined up and shot, and the hospital where Dr. Josef Mengele conducted medical experiments on live victims.

By 1945,  Soviet troops liberated the camps, freeing about 6,000 prisoners. Thousands of others had been evacuated and forced to march to another prison camp before they arrived. Anyone who couldn’t keep up was murdered on the spot.

It is fully understandable why Mr. Kristal rarely spoke of his time there.

By the time he was rescued, Israel Kristal weighed only 81 pounds. That he lived to be as old as he did was a miracle. But he was not an angry man, and held no bitterness in his heart. His daughter remarked that he was moderate in all that he did. She said that he always valued what he had, and maintained optimism even during his time in Auschwitz. He believed he was spared for a reason. His ability to have that kind of faith may have been what gave him such longevity.

Mr. Kristal moved to Israel in 1950 with his 2nd wife and once again started a candy factory. He couldn’t have his bar mitzvah – the Jewish coming of age ceremony – during WWI, but had it last year, one century later.

When Harretz asked what he thought after living through two world wars and over a century of society, he had this to say:

“The world is worse than in the past. I don’t like the permissiveness here. Everything’s allowed. At one time, young people weren’t as cheeky as they are now. They had to think about a profession and about making a living. They were carpenters, tailors. That doesn’t exist today. Now it’s all high-tech. Things come easily, without effort, without the manual labor of the past… ” Israel Kristal

Truth and wisdom that came from immense suffering.

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