(Page 3 of 3)
“Fun vanen shtamstu?” — Where are you from? — Singer asked Mr. Katz, who replied that he was from Warsaw, Poland.
“From now on, you gonna be my typesetter,” Mr. Katz said Singer told him.
Mr. Katz went on to set — and correct — Singer’s copy for the next decade. He said that he did not correct for spelling errors, only “stylistics.” Sometimes, Mr. Katz said, “the sentence would not build properly.”
“He was a wonderful writer,” Mr. Katz added. “But we had a lot of wonderful writers.”
Mr. Katz recalled Sholem Asch (“tremendous”), David Bergelson (“wonderful”), Boruch Shefner (“terrific”). Then there were editorialists such as David Shub, who had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Soviet Union, and Jack Rich, who, in an editorial during the 1964 presidential election, called Barry Goldwater a “meshugener.”
Although Mr. Katz spent most of his career setting and correcting Yiddish, he did not learn the language until he was imprisoned with his family in the Warsaw Ghetto when he was 6 years old.
His sister died of typhus in the ghetto. His father jumped from a train bound for the Majdanek concentration camp and spent the rest of the war fighting alongside the partisans. “He died after the war, [because of] everything he went through,” Mr. Katz said.
Mr. Katz and his mother were smuggled out of the ghetto in 1942. He survived the rest of the war hiding alone, first on a farm and then in a convent.
After the war, Mr. Katz reunited with his mother. In 1958 they moved to Paris, where he joined the Jewish labor union, the Bund. He landed his first newspaper job there on the Bundist daily, Undzer Shtime (Our Voice). And from across the Atlantic he read the Forverts daily to familiarize himself with American Yiddish.
When he arrived in New York, in 1962, Mr. Katz found temporary work as a typesetter for a 130-page High Holy Days edition of the Morgen Freiheit, a Communist Yiddish newspaper. Soon after that work ended, he landed the job of his dreams at the Forward.
Mr. Katz took a 14-year break from the Forward, between 1976 and 1990, to help his brother-in-law in the “shmatte business.” But he said that his mind never left the Forward, because “the Forward did good things for me.”
“When I was in Paris,” Mr. Katz recalled, “I said, ‘If I can only get a job in the Forward.” And he did. For a very long time.