Jewish State: Read All About It!


(April 27) - 'Jewish Republic Proclaimed In Zion," reads the main headline of the May 14, 1948 New York Post.

That same Friday, The Sun reported that the "New Palestine State Proclaimed by Jews Becomes First Independent Hebrew Nation in 2,000 Years."

These are two of eight newspapers announcing the birth of the State of Israel currently hanging in the main lobby of the Tel Aviv Sheraton Hotel in an exhibition honoring the country's 50th anniversary.

They are part of a large collection of front pages of newspapers, amassed by 69-year-old Walter Katz, whose headlines have heralded important - often historic - events. A man of many loves, including history, Katz has been collecting significant front pages for almost 60 years.

If those heady days of the founding of the state seem far away, a look at these well-preserved newspapers will bring it all back to life.

The New York Journal American announced in a somewhat inarticulate red banner headline above the paper's logo: "Proclaim Zion State." The New York Herald Tribune displayed a photo of Chaim Sharett (ne Chertok), son of the country's first foreign minister, Moshe Sharett, hanging an Israeli flag from the window of the Jewish Agency office in Manhattan. Several stories below, a group of celebrants dance the hora on the street.

Katz has collected these front pages - and some 400 more because, as he puts it, "Here are all these tremendous things happening and there's little I can do about them. I buy these newspapers so that at least I can be connected to what's going on. I realized that today's newspapers become history, tomorrow," Katz explains.

Katz relates he was stimulated into beginning this unusual hobby by his mother. When he was 12 years old, she gave him the clipping of the text of the Armistice terms ending World War I as announced by President Woodrow Wilson and printed in the New York American on November 12, 1918.

"She told me she knew I was fascinated by history and thought I might like to have it," recalls Katz. "Boy, was she right. This was more than just reading something out of a history book. It was as though my mother had reached back into time. It made history come alive."

Katz still has the yellowed, brittle pages tucked safely into a plastic cover - as he does all his clippings which include not only the front page, but all other items related to the headline story.

But it was a year later that Katz really got into the business of saving front pages.

On December 7, 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Katz was with his boy scout patrol visiting the Statue of Liberty at the moment the surprise attack began. On the subway on their way home to the Bronx, the boys learned of America's entry into the war. He saved the New York Daily News edition which reported in huge headlines: "Japs Bomb Hawaii."

"The papers wrote 'Hawaii' and not 'Pearl Harbor,' because at that time, almost nobody in the US knew where Pearl Harbor was," Katz explains.

As big as the headline letters were that day, they were smaller than the record 10-centimeter ones printed by the New York World Telegram in a special edition dated August 14, 1945 to announce "WAR ENDS."

During the war years, Katz made one of his proudest purchases. It wasn't even a headline. It was Joe Rosenthal's famous photo of the marine landing at Iwo Jima, which became one of the most - if not the most - evocative photo of the war. "The minute I saw that picture, boom!, it hit me that this was something special and I wanted to save it.

"I even had to spend 5 cents instead of 2 cents because it was a Sunday paper," adds Katz. "Three cents was a lot of money in those days. Worse still, the Sunday News was a rotten paper. It was antisemitic and had a lousy editorial policy."

One offshoot of his hobby is that Katz has issues of New York newspapers that ceased to exist long ago, including The Sunday News, The Sun, The Herald Tribune, The New York World Telegram and The Journal-American. The little-known PM Daily, which lasted about seven years, was published without ads and was the most liberal newspaper in the city.

"When I was a kid growing up in New York City, there were nine newspapers," said Katz. "Only three of them have survived. You can't find those defunct newspapers any more except on microfilm and I doubt if you could buy an old copy of them."

Katz had only one newspaper account of Pearl Harbor. He managed to collect six accounts of D-Day and nine of V-J Day (the victory over Japan). But his record is 18 different accounts of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

"When Kennedy was shot, all of us in the US were devastated," he recalls, describing it as a nightmare comparable only to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin 32 years later. "My reaction was to go out and buy newspapers from all over the country. It was my way of expressing my grief. On this occasion, it didn't have to do with history or politics," says Katz, who was living in Houston, Texas at the time.

Katz felt a special connection to Kennedy on whose behalf he had campaigned as a Young Democrat in 1960. On election day, he held up a Kennedy-Johnson sign at an intersection two blocks from the book depository where, three years later, Oswald fired his bullets. Between then and the time Kennedy was killed, Katz, who was living in Dallas at the time, met - in unrelated circumstances - clothing manufacturer Abraham Zapruder, the man who filmed the assassination, and Jack Ruby, the man who killed Oswald.

In May, 1967, Katz met his future wife, Shoshana. She had served as a volunteer in Israel in 1965-66 and told him she wanted to make her life here. Two years after their wedding, the couple moved to an absorption center in Ashdod, and from there to Rishon Lezion, where they raised their four children

In Israel, Katz has saved copies of papers announcing the Yom Kippur War, the death of David Ben-Gurion, the signing of the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty, the agreements with the Palestinians and the peace treaty with Jordan. And of course, every newspaper's account of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

Katz and his wife do not read Hebrew, but they began collecting Hebrew papers "for our Sabra children and their children. The Hebrew is for our descendants."

He says his own family is enthusiastic about his hobby. In 1975, Shoshana typed out a list of all the 296 items he had collected up until then, entitling it the "Walter Katz Historic Newspaper Collection." But it is 25-year-old Adam, their second oldest, who is the keenest.

"He calls our home an archive," says Katz. "We have saved about 200 National Geographic magazines, each of which has at least one important story, records, cassettes and CDs - from Caruso to the latest Israeli pop stars - and over 400 video movies, including more than 120 classics."

Today, Katz is willing to part with some of his front pages for the right price. He hopes to raise enough money to send his younger children to college. Asked how much he expects the covers to fetch, he thinks it over for a moment and then replies cautiously: "They can't be bought in a shop. They are original and unique and they are for people who can afford them. The papers will go to the highest bidder."

The eight covers on display in the Sheraton were insured for $5,000 each, if this is any indication of value. But even if Katz manages to sell off some of his collection, it doesn't mean he won't continue collecting more.

But his "filing cabinet," the battered, soiled suitcase which has traveled with him from New York to Houston to Dallas to Rishon and housed his collection for the past 40 years, has finally reached full capacity. Katz was forced to put the latest items, including his most recent cover - President Bill Clinton's re-election victory last November in an old attache case. (Katz has all the presidential election results since FDR won in 1944.) Even the attache case is now full to the brim.

But not to worry. After 28 years, Walter and Shoshana Katz have decided to install a wall-to-wall closet in their bedroom. "This part of the closet," says Walter, pointing to one end of the bare wall, "will have special flooring to bear the weight of the newspapers. Above it, we will leave lots of space for more."

© The Jerusalem Post

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