Wolf Messing’s Powerful Psychic Abilities Allegedly Put Him In The Crosshairs Of Two Dictators

Mentalists and psychics have been entertaining audiences for centuries, and even if they've been widely debunked, they're still a fascinating spectacle. One of the most best-known mentalists and psychics of the 20th century was Wolf Messing.

Born in 1899 in Poland, Messing specialized in staged hypnotism and mind reading. He claimed he could read people's minds by studying their involuntary muscle movements, which he claimed reflected their inner thoughts. Messing also claimed to be able to see the future. He used these abilities to perform around the world in the 1920s. After fleeing the Nazis in 1939, Messing went on to become a celebrity entertainer in the Soviet Union. 

Much of Wolf Messing's biographical information is derived from a series of articles published in the Soviet Union in 1965, which were partly written by Messing himself and were later found to be either exaggerations or complete fabrications. But despite the fantastical details of his life story, Messing was a successful touring mentalist who entertained Soviet audiences for decades until his death in 1974.

  • Wolf Messing’s Parents Wanted Him To Become A Rabbi, But He Had Other Plans

    Wolf Messing was born in 1899 in the Hasidic Jewish village of Góra Kalwaria, about 20 miles outside the Polish city of Warsaw. At an early age, Messing showed several unique talents, supposedly including the abilities of predicting the future, reading minds, and finding lost items. He also displayed a prodigious memory, memorizing the entire Talmud by the age of 6.

    His parents wanted him to become a rabbi and sent him to seminary when he was 11. Instead, Messing escaped on the first available train.

  • Messing’s First Alleged Telepathy Experience Resulted In A Free Train Ride To Berlin

    While running away, Messing attempted to board a train to Berlin without a ticket, and his alleged psychic abilities came in handy. When the train conductor asked for his ticket, Messing instead showed him a piece of old newspaper. The conductor was somehow convinced and reportedly said, “You’re an odd duck, you know? Why are you hiding when you have a ticket?"

    According to Messing, this was the moment he realized he could use his powers of suggestion to manipulate people - and make a living doing it.

  • In Berlin, Doctors Discovered Messing Could Slip Into A Self-Induced Cataleptic State
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In Berlin, Doctors Discovered Messing Could Slip Into A Self-Induced Cataleptic State

    In Berlin, the young Messing lived a life of poverty and often went hungry while struggling to make ends meet. One day, while working as a messenger, he collapsed from hunger and was taken to a hospital. There, doctors thought he was dead until a medical student detected a pulse. Then, Messing met with a psychiatrist and neuropathologist named Dr. Abel, who helped him realize he could cause himself to slip into a catatonic state at will.

    With his newfound ability, Messing got a job in a circus called the Berlin Panoptikum and performed under the stage name "The Wonder Boy." Messing's act was to climb inside a crystal coffin and induce a trance-like state from Fridays until Sundays.

  • Messing Claimed He Met With Albert Einstein And Sigmund Freud
    Photo: Sophie Delar, photographer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Messing Claimed He Met With Albert Einstein And Sigmund Freud

    In either 1913 or 1915, depending on the source, Messing traveled to Vienna, where he allegedly met and befriended psychiatrist Sigmund Freud and physicist Albert Einstein.

    During their meeting, Freud and Einstein allegedly decided to test Messing's psychic abilities. Freud mentally thought of a task for Messing to perform, which was to take a pair of tweezers and pluck three hairs from Einstein's mustache. Messing apparently read Freud's mind and gave Einstein a bit of grooming. 

    This story is most likely a fabrication, as Freud and Einstein didn't meet until 1927.

  • Messing Also Claimed To Have Met Mahatma Gandhi
    Photo: Elliott & Fry / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Messing Also Claimed To Have Met Mahatma Gandhi

    Messing began touring the world in the 1920s, and another colorful anecdote supposedly occurred when he met Mahatma Gandhi in India in 1927.

    During their meeting, Gandhi allegedly also decided to test Messing's psychic abilities. Gandhi gave Messing a mental command to pick up a flute on a nearby table and give it to someone else in the room. When Messing did, the recipient began playing the flute and summoned a snake that had been concealed in a nearby basket.

  • As Hitler Came Into Power, Messing Made A Dangerous Prediction About The Dictator
    Photo: Theo Eisenhart / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

    As Hitler Came Into Power, Messing Made A Dangerous Prediction About The Dictator

    In 1937, Messing came to Berlin and made a prediction about Adolf Hitler, who had been elected reich chancellor three years earlier. Messing predicted that "Hitler will die if he turns to the East." Or in other words, Hitler would meet his downfall if he tried to invade the Soviet Union (a prediction that ultimately came true).

    In response, a bounty of 200,000 marks was placed on Messing's head. The psychic then fled to the Soviet Union in November 1939, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life.