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Renowned forensic psychiatrist was an expert on Holocaust

The Detroit News

Emanuel “Emek” Tanay knew something about trauma.

Before becoming one of the top psychiatric theorists on homicide, he hid from the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Living on false papers in Poland and Hungary, he helped save the lives of his mother, sister and childhood sweetheart. His father had died in a concentration camp.

Dr. Tanay then came to Metro Detroit, becoming such a successful forensic psychiatrist that he testified in such well-known cases as Jack Ruby, Ted Bundy and Sam Sheppard.

After testifying in thousands of court cases, the expert witness rested. He died Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, from metastatic prostate cancer. He was 86.

“There is only one Dr. Tanay,” said Dr. Robert Simon, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

No other psychiatrist possessed the depth of knowledge and experience in psychiatry and the law, said Simon.

Dr. Tanay was among those who convinced the American Psychiatric Association to recognize post-traumatic stress disorder as a medical condition.

He was a distinguished fellow at the association and the Academy of Forensic Sciences.

His career as a psychiatrist and psychotherapist began when he joined a psychiatric practice in Grosse Pointe in 1958. He later set up his own practice in the Fisher Building in Detroit.

He was a frequent guest of Metro Detroit radio host J.P. McCarthy and appeared on national news programs including “Nightline,” “20/20” and “60 Minutes.”

In 1992, Dr. Tanay weighed in on serial killer Leslie Allen Williams, a paroled sex offender who admitted to killing four teenage girls in Oakland and Genesee counties after his release from prison. “Oh, he’s quite bright, intelligent and articulate, all right — consistent with a psychopath or sociopath,” Dr. Tanay told The Detroit News. “Williams is a classic sociopath, who gratifies his needs, primarily sexual, through sadistic behavior. It doesn’t have to be raping or killing, but often ends up that way.”

Dr. Tanay also was a tireless defender of the rights of Holocaust survivors. He was a visiting scholar at the Department of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Stockton College in New Jersey.

His passionate views sometimes bumped up against those of others, said his son, David Tanay.

He questioned the role Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg played in rescuing Hungarian Jews and challenged the valueof the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

“He was tenacious and strident in his views,” said David Tanay, an assistant Michigan attorney general.

“Whether testifying in a courtroom or writing and speaking about the Holocaust, he was a fight to the end,” said David Tanay.

Dr. Tanay also wrote several books, including “American Legal Injustice: Behind the Scenes with an Expert Witness,” and a memoir, “Passport to Life: Autobiographical Reflections on the Holocaust.”

An avid sailor, he saw his love of the water as comparable as his thirst for life. “They remind me of life,” he once said about the wind and water. “I love life. I’m grateful for every second of it.”

Besides his son, he is survived by his wife of 44 years, Sandra; daughters Elaine and Anita; and six grandchildren.

Visitation will be 11 a.m. Saturday at the Nie Family Funeral Home chapel at 3767 W. Liberty Road in Ann Arbor. A memorial service will follow at noon.