For 30 years, the story brewed in Larry Roth’s mind: In the early 1930s, the German government approached a Madison Avenue public relations firm in search of good publicity.
Roth was in the PR business himself, in investor relations. “When I was about 25,” he told NJJN, “I was reading a book about public relations and noticed a footnote about this guy who during the Depression took on a Nazi account” — which gave him the title of his new book, The Nazi Account.
According to the JTA archives, that man, well-known ad man Carl Byoir, was officially cleared of suspicion of un-American activities in 1940 following an FBI investigation. The charges against him arose from the work he had done for the German government.
The account lasted only a year around the time Hitler was gaining power. With the agency having changed hands a number of times and all those involved now dead, Roth was unable to find much firsthand information. In fact, one of the most salient facts — that Byoir tried to get The New York Times to carry anti-Semitic statements — he found out only recently, after the book was completed.
“It’s just as well in a way,” he said, speaking in a recent phone interview from his Freehold home. “I love nonfiction but I didn’t have enough information, and I realized that the moral aspect was what was most interesting.”
While drawing on the verifiable facts, he was free to dream up a central character and the ethical dilemmas he would have faced. Roth imagined a man fearful of losing his job in a worsening market, but also painfully aware of the growing rumors about the treatment of Jews in Germany.
At first, Roth couldn’t get it to jell. “I was eager to write it but couldn’t,” he said. “I was too preoccupied with paying the mortgage and supporting my three daughters.”
He had the basic skills. He had majored in journalism in college and always loved history, and though no close relatives were involved in the Holocaust, he was fascinated by it, so he relished the chance to explore the story’s background.
Finally, about six years ago, with the bad economy reducing his work load, he decided the time had come. Most first-time novelists — and many seasoned ones — battle to get their words out. Not so Roth. “It was like a religious experience,” he said. “It just came. I ‘downloaded’ it from my brain in three months. It was scary. I don’t think I could have done that 25 or 30 years ago.”
It wasn’t all that easy. For the next few years he honed and polished the text. He showed it to friends, took their comments into consideration, and rewrote.
Having decided to publish the book himself, he had to learn the ins and outs of the process. The book finally came out this past September and “has taken on a life of its own,” Roth said. Given his background in PR, the promotional side comes somewhat easily. He has been speaking to Jewish groups, he said, and The Nazi Account is now in three major Jewish museums: The Jewish Museum and the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City and the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. It will soon be available at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, and is in the permanent library collection at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.