Jerzy (Jurek) Zachariasz taught me how to be precise and to the
point. That's the way he was. Following his example I would characterize
Jurek as a man of great wisdom, extreme modesty and integrity, and a great
sense of humor as well.
I knew Jurek for more than fifty years. In 1949 we chose the same institution of higher learning in Moscow, even the same courses.
We attended the same classes and seminars. I had the opportunity to witness his wisdom especially at those seminars. The professors usually asked him the most difficult questions. Quite often I thought that he would not know the answer. Invariably I was wrong. Not only he gave the right answer but also it was phrased in a most concise and precise way and the teachers were amazed.
After graduating and returning to Poland, both of us were assigned to the Central Planning Commission, which was preparing national plans and economic policy recommendations for the Government and the Politburo. Jurek was assigned to the most difficult Department of Costs and Price Policy. In about two years Jurek was promoted to head that department. He was the youngest department director among the more than thirty department heads.
The promotion was based strictly on his ability and revolutionary proposal to reform Poland's wholesale price system along prices in the main free market economies. Here is what Professor John Montias of Yale University wrote about him: "In December 1956 Jerzy Zachariasz who was soon to become the Director of the Department of Costs and Price Policy introduced the idea that the relations among prices of raw materials traded by Poland such as coal, iron ore, nonferrous metals, sulfur and grain should be patterned as far as possible after the structure of world prices" <1>. Imagine how radical Jurek's idea was deviating from the labor theory and the Marxist-Leninist approach to setting prices in Communist countries.
Jurek started to implement this idea after being appointed by the political leadership. He worked closely on a daily basis with the Chairman of the Planning Commission Stefan Jedrychowski, who was also a member of the Politburo. When the world-renowned economist Mr. Michal Kalecki returned to Poland and joined the Planning Commission, Jurek worked closely with him as well.
Here is more what Professor Montias wrote about Jurek's department: "Without theoretical preconceptions they were willing to experiment, at least on paper, with the notion of linking prices to the cost of marginal producers. Since Zachariasz, the new Director, had been the first to speak out in 1956 for a rapprochement between domestic and world prices, there was no resistance in the department to carrying out the recommendations of the July 1957 thesis of the Economic Council of the subject"<2>.
Personally I learned very much from Jurek during all those years we were together in Poland, Moscow and later in the United States. In the introduction to my doctoral dissertation I wrote: "In good and bad times I could always rely on my best friend Jerzy Zachariasz with whom I spent long hours discussing various economic issues including those related to Comecon in whose activities he was very much involved"<3>.
The anti-Semitic policy of the Communist Party in 1968, which led to firing of most Jewish employees, did not omit Jerzy. But as a sign of his modesty let me recall that when Chairman Jendrychowski called him to his office to announce his firing, the Chairman started with the following: "You know comrade Zachariasz", Jurek immediately responded: "Yes I know", making it easier for the boss to announce his decision to fire Jurek from the Planning Commission. Thus ended the beautiful career of that wise man and the subsequent decision to leave Poland.
There are numerous examples known among his friends of his modesty. Let me also mention the story of his behavior in the Ghetto in Lodz during the German occupation. He met there his future wife Nina. At some point when Jurek looked very weak, exhausted from the permanent starvation, Nina had a chance to put in his container a double portion of the meager Ghetto soup. At times when people were ready to do almost everything to get some food, Jurek rejected Nina's offer. Jurek could not in clear conscience accept the additional soup, which would reduce the ration for others.
In the United States we worked together for several years at the New Jersey Office of Economic Policy, which advised the Governor and Legislature. Jurek's contribution to the Offices' work was exemplary. All colleagues admired his wisdom, modesty, and sense of humor. Jurek was an economic advisor to several large US corporations while working at the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York. Everyone who knew him and listened to his views, saw in him a person of great intellect.
Jurek lived a rich and honest life of which Nina and his daughter Gail, as well as his numerous relatives and friends can be proud of. He did the best with his life. We are saying good-by Dear Jurek, rest now in peace.
<1> John Michael Montias. Central Planning in Poland. New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1962, p. 39.