Four score and seven years ago, Herb was born in Manhattan. His family moved often, and he grew up in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. By 1938, he was living with his mother and sister in a Lower East Side housing project called Knickerbocker Village; his upstairs neighbors were Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.
He graduated from Morris High School in 1931 and went to Brooklyn College at night. After college, he graduated from Fordham Law School, but the Depression intervened, and he took any job he could get until the start of the war.