Fact Checking the Guinness Book of World Records: The Oldest Man Alive

In 2014, Mr. Israel Krystal (z”l)  of Haifa, Israel was named the “World’s Oldest Man” by Guinness Book of World Records. Mr. Krystal reported that he was born around Rosh Hashanah on or about September 15, 1903. And Guinness chose to use that date. But we knew better! in the Jewish Genealogy world, we know how to ferret out the details and JRI-Poland experts determined that Mr. Krystal would turn 113 around April 11, 2016, five months before the Guinness date! Here are the facts and only the facts. You decide who is more accurate!

Israel Kristal, center, the world’s oldest man, with Marco Frigatti, right, head of records for Guinness World Records, in Haifa, Israel.Credit…Dvir Rosen/Guinness World Records, via Associated Press

Israel Icek Krystal (1903-2017), was born in Poland to parents who owned a confectionary (sweets) factory. His mother died when he was only seven and his father died when he was eleven. He was never bar mitzvahed, and at age 14 went to live with relatives in Lodz and work in their confectionery factory.

Israel married before the Shoah (Holocaust) and he and had wife had xx children. His May 1928 marriage record states his age as 25. In the marriage banns (a public record posted in the synagogue and announced for three weeks before the wedding – in case anyone “knows any reason why the couple should not be joined in marriage”), the rabbi states that Mr. Krystal was 25 years old – not 24 – as one would expect if he were actually born around Rosh Hashanah in 1903 as he had been led to believe.

There is no entry in the 1903 birth register of Maleniec, Końskie County, Congress Poland, where he was born and first lived. Nor did an entry appear in later books as was often the case… i.e. a delayed registration. So, it is unknown if his parents never registered his birth – a common occurrence – or whether his birth was recorded in the 1905 or 1907 registers which have not survived. Thus, his sole identifying documentation after the war (he survived Auschwitz), were the Red Cross Displaced Persons Camp cards, and his Israeli identity papers. With some minor contradictions, all suggested that his birthday was sometime around September 15, 1903. And, he maintained he was told by his family that he was born around the Chagim (High Holy Days).

Kristal’s name and date of birth on a 1918 record

As Guinness World Records rules stipulate that ages must be documented with evidence from before a person reaches age 20, all these known documents were not admissible in the family’s application for World’s Oldest Man status. So, the family (and the City of Lodz) turned to Jewish Records Indexing – Poland (jri-poland.org ) for help. Fortunately, Michael Tobias of Glasgow, Scotland, who is our database manager and co-founder, had the presence of mind to look online in the Polish State Archives collection of Registration Cards for the City of Lodz, a collection which JRI-Poland had not yet indexed. He found a card, for Mr. Krystal’s family with at least one error on it, but with a clue. In Poland it was common to use a Roman numeral for the month, and this card had columns for birthday, month and year. (See figure 1). In this case, Israel Icek Krystal was added to the extended family’s registration card in 1920 in a dated entry, thereby meeting Guiness’ age requirement that the evidence be from before the subject was 20. In the year column, Israel is described as being born in 1903. Although the month column is blank, the “day” column includes the Roman numeral “IV”. Coupled with the rabbi’s age comment on the original marriage banns, we concluded that the proverbial “kernel of truth” is that Mr. Krystal correctly remembers he was born near a holiday. And based upon Pesach having fallen on April 11, 1903, we believe he was born around Pesach and not the High Holy Days, five months earlier and five months older than he had thought all his life.

His life and story is an amazing tale of perseverance. He outlived those who tried to cut short his days. In his statement to Guinness, Mr. Krystal said: “There have been smarter, stronger and better-looking men than 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.”

“Exceptional Life Spans”

Izrael Krystal’s full story is documented in the book “Exceptional Life Spans” in which Jewish Records Indexing – Poland and the roles of JRI-Poland co-founders Stanley Diamond and Michael Tobias are acknowledged.