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Renowned forensic psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Emanuel Tanay, dies at 86

John Lofy
Dr. Emanuel Tanay

Dr. Emanuel Tanay died of metastatic prostate cancer on August 5. A visitation is planned for Saturday, September 13 at 11:00 am at the Nie Family Funeral Home in Ann Arbor with a memorial service to follow at noon.

Tanay led an amazing life. Here's more about Tanay from a family press release: 

Emanuel ‘Emek’Tanay, M.D. who lent his expertise as an expert witness in thousands of court cases including those of such well-known defendants as Jack Ruby, Theodore ‘Ted’ Bundy, and Sam Sheppard, died peacefully in hospice care on August 5.  The cause of death was metastatic prostate cancer. 

Dr. Tanay, a distinguished Fellow of the Academy of Forensic Sciences and the American Psychiatric Association, was also a champion of those suffering from psychic trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.  He was among those who successfully lobbied the American Psychiatric Association to recognize PTSD as a diagnosable and treatable medical condition in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM3).

“There is only one Dr. Tanay,” said Robert Simon, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. “I know of no other psychiatrist or forensic psychiatrist who possessed his depth and scope of knowledge and experience in psychiatry and the law.”

Dr. Tanay’s expertise in the area of psychic trauma was a direct result of his own personal experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

As a teenage boy during World War II, Dr. Tanay survived the Holocaust in Poland and Hungary by hiding from the Nazis and living on false papers to conceal the fact that he was a Jew. This required enormous resourcefulness, courage and ingenuity on a daily basis, as most of the local population worked very hard to identify Jews and hand them over to the German occupiers to be killed. With his father confined to and later killed at the P?aszów concentration camp depicted in Schindler’s List, Dr. Tanay became the leader of his family, saving the lives of his mother, his sister Olenka, his childhood sweetheart Gina—as well as his own life. He and his family were liberated in Budapest in 1945. Nobel prize-winner and fellow Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel called Dr. Tanay’s memoir, Passport to Life: Autobiographical Reflections on the Holocaust “…deeply moving. It will give the reader lessons of courage and faith.”

After the war, Dr. Tanay became a tireless defender for the rights of Holocaust survivors. Although he was a consultant for the German government in its attempts to provide compensations to survivors of the concentration camps, his main interest and concern was in the mental health of survivors. He became a Visiting Scholar at the Department of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Stockton College in New Jersey. He was featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary, Courage to Care and also in the permanent exhibit, Testimonies on display at the National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.

Murder was another subject Dr. Tanay built his reputation upon.   The Detroit Free Press once described Emanuel Tanay as “probably the nation’s premier psychiatric theorist on homicide.”

After Jack Ruby’s conviction for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald was overturned, Dr. Tanay was retained as a psychiatric forensic expert by the defense. In preparation for a second trial he conducted extensive interviews with the defendant and his two siblings.  His work on Ruby’s behalf was cited several times in the Warren Commission Report on the Assassination of President Kennedy. In 1966, The Fourth World Congress of Psychiatry published Dr. Tanay’s findings in a paper, Jack Ruby, A Psychodynamic Study of Murder.

In 1989, Dr. Tanay appeared on a panel of the American Association of Psychiatry and the Law to discuss his work as an expert witness in the trial of serial kidnapper, killer and necrophile, Theodore ‘Ted’ Bundy. “The malevolence of a psychopath and his duplicity is not readily recognized by the untrained observer,” Dr. Tanay reported. “A sadistic serial killer’s success depends on his appearing normal.”

Dr. Tanay wrote about his work with Ted Bundy, Jack Ruby, accused wife killer Sam Sheppard, and many other clients in his book, American Legal Injustice; Behind the Scenes with an Expert Witness.

Dr. Tanay was a past President of the Michigan Psychiatric Society and well-known in the Detroit metropolitan area as a frequent guest of radio personality J.P. McCarthy. He was interviewed and his work featured on a variety of television shows, including such national news programs as 60 Minutes, Nightline, and 20/20.

An avid sailor for most of his adult life, Dr. Tanay was captain of the sailboat Caprice. “I love the wind. I love the water,” he once said. “They remind me of life.   And I love life. I’m grateful for every second of it.”

Dr. Tanay’s survivors include his wife of 44 years, Sandra; their son David, Dr. Tanay’s daughters Elaine and Anita from an earlier marriage to Antoinette Hechtkopf as well as six grandchildren: Aaron, Sara, and Jeremy Hersh; and Rachel, James, and Catherine Tanay; and his niece, DanitaNeedleman of Sydney, Australia. Dr. Tanay’s son and daughter in-laws are Stacey Tanay, Stephen Hersh, and Brian Meleski.

Mark Brush was Michigan Radio’s Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.