May 29, 1920–August 9, 2000
BY KENNETH J.ARROW
JOHN CHARLES HARSANYI was born on May 29, 1920, in Budapest, Hungary, an only child. His father owned a pharmacy from which he derived a comfortable income. Both parents were Jewish but had converted to Catholicism. His parents were, according to his account, well educated and cultured. He was tutored at home for the first few grades. After elementary school he went to the famous Lutheran Gymnasium in Budapest, graduates of which included John von Neumann, Eugene Wigner (the physicist), and Nicholas Kaldor.
After two years of studying leather chemistry at Grenoble, France, he returned to Hungary with the imminence of World War II to study pharmacy so that he could continue his father’s business. He then started (though with little real interest) a doctoral program in botany, mainly to avoid conscription into the army; however, the Germans entered Hungary in March 1944, and in May he was conscripted into forced labor. Fortunately, his work was done in or near Budapest. He was required to wear a white armband, identifying Christians of Jewish origin. His unit was under some form of protection from the Vatican, but when the Russians
Reprinted with permission from The Economic Journal, November 2001.