|Alexander Imich celebrating his 111th birthday in February 2014.|
An 111-year-old Holocaust survivor who escaped both Nazi persecution and a Soviet gulag to dedicate his life to proving that the neshama, or soul, outlives the body. Dr. Alexander Imich, an occult scientist aged 111 and three months, was given the title after its previous holder, Arturo Licata, died in Italy on April 24 at the age of 111 years and 357 days — just before his 112th birthday.
Despite setbacks, such as losing his savings in the stock market and losing much of his eyesight to macular degeneration, Imich is described by caregivers as a stick-thin man with “an enviable shock of hair,” who continues to smile, “eyes dancing.”
Imich maintains his Jewish heritage.
When he isn’t busy documenting phantoms and poltergeists, Imich also remains loyal to his Jewish heritage. Imich was born in 1903 in Poland, where he later earned his Ph.D. in 1927, despite the best efforts of anti-Semitic professors to sabotage his thesis. He embarked upon a journey that led him through two world wars, the Holocaust, two years in a Russian labor camp near the White Sea, and finally a new life in America in 1952 (with his wife, Wela, who passed away in 1986).
He worked as a well respected chemist and scientist, ultimately trying to prove to other mainstream scientists that the neshama (soul) survives physical death, editing and publishing a book, Incredible Tales of the Paranormal, (in 1995, at the age of 92), earning high praise from Uri Geller, the celebrated illusionist, as “the most fascinating and unusual book I have ever read in this field [penetrating] the unknown with the support of many testimonies.”
Imich’s Jewish roots run deep: he was born to a wealthy Jewish family in Poland in 1903, nearly four decades before the war that would forever change Jewish life in the country. He said that he could still remember the day a car was driven through his hometown in Czestochowa, southern Poland, for the first time.
His father, who owned a decorating business, was also an aviation enthusiast who built an air strip for early aviators. Accordingly, his son, who now resides in New York on the West side, counts the airplane as the greatest invention in his lifetime.
When he was just 15, Imich fought in his first war, the Polish-Soviet conflict of 1919-1921. When the war ended, the schoolboy-turned-soldier wanted to stay on and become a captain in the Polish navy, but was barred from doing so because he was Jewish.
“I decided to become a zoologist and traveled to exotic countries in Africa,” he told said. Later he became a chemistry professor and developed a fascination with the occult and attended séances.
Unfortunately, his scholarly pursuits were disrupted by the eruption of World War II — and with it, grave danger for Poland’s nearly 4-million-strong Jewish community.
In 1939, when Poland was invaded by the Nazis, Imich fled with his second wife, Wela, to Bialystok, then still under Soviet rule. However, the couple was shuttled off to a gulag, (labor camp) for refusing Soviet citizenship.
Unintentionally, this may have saved their lives. Bialystok was occupied by the Nazis in 1941, and its 50,000 Jews were herded into a small ghetto in the city. Many of those who survived the ghetto conditions were transported to the Treblinka and Majdanek death camps, where they were systematically killed.
Alexander and Wela, meanwhile, were deep inside Soviet territory, far from the Nazis’ grasp. After two years in the camp near the White Sea, near Scandinavia, the two were shipped to Samarkand (Uzbekistan) and were allowed to return to Poland.
But upon completing the long journey from Central Asia, they found out that most of their friends and relatives had died in the Holocaust.
Alexander and his bride move to America.
In 1952, the family left the devastation in Poland behind and moved to America, settling first in Connecticut and then Manhattan, New York. Wela worked as a psychologist. Her work inspired Imich to abandon chemistry and delve into parapsychology, while continuing to write books on paranormal phenomena for both mainstream scientists and the general public,
After Wela’s death in 1986, Imich continued to study the occult. He was an active scholar well into his later years, even handing out a prize for parapsychology research and establishing the Anomalous Phenomena Research Center with the goal of demonstrating the reality of paranormal phenomena.
In 1995, at the age of 92, he published “Incredible Tales of the Paranormal,” continuing his tireless efforts to prove to scientists that the “neshama,” the Jewish term for soul, survives physical death.
The illusionist Uri Geller, a self-styled psychic who met Imich in 1972 after leaving Israel for the United States, told The Jewish Press that Imich’s book was “the most fascinating and unusual book I have ever read in this field [penetrating] the unknown, with the support of many testimonies.”
“I consider him to be a genius,” Geller said. “My only explanation for his longevity is that he knows the secret of how to extract pure energy from the universe and beyond.”
The 5 keys to longevity.
Asked about the secret to his longevity, Imich answered that a combination of “good genes,” giving up smoking, avoiding alcohol, remaining physically active – he used to be a gymnast, he said, and a good one at that – and not having children had probably contributed to his reaching such an old age.
He added that while he ate sparingly, chocolate and ice cream were two of his favorite foods.
“I never thought I’d be that old,” he often says.
In 2005, he said that his father, who wanted to be a doctor but was pressured into running the family business, had taught him to live a healthy lifestyle that included daily exercise.
Though he is the world’s oldest man, Imich is not the oldest person in the world: that would be 116-year-old Misao Okawa, who lives in Japan. Aside from Okawa, there are 66 women in the world who are older than Imich.
Imich says that he still has ambitions and aspirations for the rest of his life.
Nancy Burban 2014