Alexander Imich, Long-Living Survivor and Student of Paranormal, Dies at 111

Polish Jew Edited Book on Phenomena at Age 95


By Benjamin Ivry

Published June 09, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Alexander Imich, the Polish-born American Jewish parapsychologist who died over the weekend at age 111, suggested that belief, or even credulity, might be a key to longevity.

Imich, a Holocaust survivor who lived in New York, was considered the oldest man on earth at the time of his death.

A devotee of the Israeli-born illusionist Uri Geller later in life, Imich edited the 1995 book “Incredible Tales of the Paranormal: Documented Accounts of Poltergeist, Levitations, Phantoms, and Other Phenomena”, but his interest in parapsychology began decades before. “Incredible Tales of the Paranormal” decribes Imich’s 1932 experience with a Polish medium, Matylda S. who made rings move from the fingers of one person to another, and summoned ghosts at will, as Imich recounted: “I will never forget the kiss of a phantom. An invisible face, whose breath I could distinctly hear and feel on my face, kissed mine. It was a strong and pleasant sensation.”

Born in Częstochowa, Poland in 1903, Imich was fascinated by the supernatural by age thirteen, investigating table turning and Ouija boards as means of communicating with spirits. Imich also read voraciously the sea narratives of Jack London and Joseph Conrad, but when he entered a maritime school to realize his dream of being a sea captain, he encountered anti-Semitic Polish intructors. One such announced that he would abandon any Jewish crew member in the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, Imich resolved to study zoology at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University. There, in 1920, he was stymied by anti-Semitic faculty who placed special impediments in his way. Imich managed nonetheless to earn a doctorate in 1927, although as a Polish Jew, an academic career in zoology was closed to him. An early marriage with Genia Mendelsohn, a chemistry student, failed after she ran off with an art instructor. A second marriage to Wela Katzenellenbogen, a lawyer whose German Jewish family claimed to be related to Felix Mendelssohn, Karl Marx, and Martin Buber, proved more durable.

During World War II, Mr. and Mrs. Imich were imprisoned in a Russian labour camp near the White Sea for two years, before reaching Samarkand, Uzbekistan, where they survived from 1942-1947. Dozens of family members in Poland, including Imich’s parents, were murdered in Nazi concentration camps. These lost loved ones doubtless accentuated Imich’s pre-existing need for communication with the spirit world. In 1952 the couple relocated to the United States, where Imich worked as a chemist, while Wela eventually developed a thriving psychological practice. Imich would latch onto new mediums, whose displays he described enthusiastically in articles, including Joseph Nuzum, a magic shop owner and illusionist who appeared to levitate and move through the air. Visitors to Imich’s small Upper West Side apartment would be regaled with a variety of bent knives, forks, and spoons, supposedly deformed by Nuzum and other experts in psychokinesis (these and other claims were refuted by such debunkers as James Randi).

Unfortunately, all Imich’s psychic activities, which increased after his wife’s death in 1986, did not give him foresight into the stock market, and a series of bad investments bankrupted Imich to the point where in 2007 at age 104, he was featured as one of the New York Times’ Neediest Cases.. To the Times, he attributed his longevity in part to never reproducing: “Children take so much out of you. To make a human being was never on my mind.” Instead, Imich focused on “calorie restriction” or “under-nutrition,” eating minimal food while gorging on vitamin supplements according to “Life Extension, A Practical Scientific Approach” (1982) although the “Journal of the American Medical Association” warned that “Some of the ‘health’ advice contained in ‘Life Extension’ would be humorous if it was not so dangerous.”

Undeterred, Imich proudly told one interviewer in 1998 that the nutritional supplements he had experimented with included vitamins A, C, D, E, B1, B2, B6, and B12; calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper, manganese, and chromium. As supplements he also ingested “inositol, ginger, phosphatidylcholine, bromelain, milk thistle seed extract, grape seed extract, flaxseed lignan, ellagic acid, bilberry extract, olive leaf extract, apple polyphenol, bromelain, lutein, panthetine, lycopene, sulforaphane, resveratrol, zeaxanthin, sunflower seeds, coenzyme Q10, garlic, mangosteen, pomegranate, noni complex, ashwagandha, hyaluronic acid, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, seaweed vegetable complex, and turmeric extract.”

Thriving either because of, or despite, this diet, Imich began donating his archives to the University of Manitoba in 2012 when his eyesight started to fade. A believer to the last, he made sure that there, among manuscripts of his published and unpublished works, are found “various pieces of silverware which were bent by Joe A. Nuzum.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.