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Jerzy Zachariasz: A Life Well Lived

by Sue Katz

A freedom fighter in the Lodz ghetto, a student in Moscow, a highly respected economist in Poland and the USA, Jerzy Zachariasz (1923-2001) lived a life of achievement, integrity and wit. The youngest of 8 children, Jerzy Zachariasz was born in Lodz, Poland. His father Chanyne, was a tailor, and his mother Esther, a homemaker.

After finishing elementary school in 1936, Jerzy left his studies to join his seven siblings in helping to support the family as a photographic technician. Three years later, with the arrival of the Germans, the Zachariasz family was forced into the Lodz ghetto together with the rest of the Jewish community. As a teenager who was already a union member, Jerzy Zachariasz became a key resistance activist, providing vital organizational order within the difficult conditions of the ghetto.

What was to be a life-long partnership and romance between Nina (nee Tyberg) and Jerzy began in the ghetto. Nina tried to use her job in the ghetto kitchen as a way to support the activists. But when she offered Jerzy, whom she knew only slightly, a double portion of soup, he refused in case it might dilute what the rest of the community was to receive.

When the Lodz ghetto was liquidated in 1944, Jerzy passed through Auschwitz, Kaltwasser, and finally Dernau. Nina also went first to Auchwitz, but she was then transferred to Bergen Belsen, followed by Salz Wedel. At the end of the Death March, Jerzy was liberated by the Russians and he returned to Lodz where he met up again with Nina in the weaving factory where they both went to work. Laboring with heavy, outdated, and broken equipment, their romance was sealed by Jerzy's help with the lifting and his offers to share his lunch with her. "I bought you for a piece of bread," he would joke in later years.

Their workday lasted until 2:00 p.m. after which they went to school. Despite studying under these conditions, both received full merit scholarships to Russian universities. Nina studied History in Leningrad while Jerzy began his illustrious Economics career at Moscow Institute of Economics. They married in 1953 in Moscow and returned a year later with advanced degrees to Warsaw.

Working for the Polish Central Planning Commission, Jerzy's scholarly articles on Economics began to draw a good deal of attention. His conceptualization of the marketplace and its impact on prices led to his appointment as the Head of Department for Pricing Policy - the youngest Director in the Planning Commission. Jerzy Zachariasz's work attracted the notice of western economists, such as Dr. Michael Montias of Yale University, who began referencing his publications.

The birth of daughter Gail in 1956 would bring her parents life-long joy. But happiness was later overshadowed by the wave of anti-Semitism which followed the Czech uprising. Jerzy refused to sign an unjustified order to fire a competent Jewish employee, despite professional pressure to do so. Jerzy's boss tried to keep him in the Department, but soon both Jerzy and Nina were unemployed. The fact that they had relatives in America and that they had applied for visas through the Dutch consulate (proxy for Israel) made them the object of accusations of "cosmopolitanism" and "zionism".

During the 1968 window of open borders, the Zachariasz family went straight to Vienna and then on to Rome where they waited for USA visas. Once settled in the States, Jerzy Zachariasz at first taught at a series of East Coast Universities, while Nina worked in University libraries. In 1973, Jerzy was hired by Chase Manhattan where he stayed until the early 80s when he received an invitation to join the New Jersey State Office of Economic Policy. After his retirement in 1990, Jerzy's health began to decline. He and Nina moved to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1996 to be closer to their daughter Gail, now well-established in the computer software field. Jerzy passed away after a massive heart attack on February 5, 2001, in Sarasota, Florida. A memorial service was held there on February 7, and he was buried in Boston on February 9.

Jerzy Zachariasz is remembered with great respect and fondness by his many friends. While he had a biting wit and an inimitable style of succinct social observation, he never had a bad word to say about people. As his daughter Gail notes: "He always had a sense of wanting to do the right thing - in both small and large ways. He was intensely loved because he combined his integrity with both wisdom and a sense of humor." Nina adds to this: " He had a remarkably analytical mind and helped solve people's problems with a unique approach. This he combined with a great deal of modesty and honesty."

Jerzy Zachariasz will be long remembered, not only for his widely-recognized contributions to the field of economics, but also for his life well-lived. He served as an advisor, a support, a wit, and a companion to all those closest to him.

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