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.”