Long-buried Nazi atrocities, retold in Robert Rotenberg’s new crime novel, have lessons for today

Robert Rotenberg
Robert Rotenberg (right) is the author of 'What We Buried', a thriller retelling the 1944 story of a Nazi massacre in Italy. The author met a 94-year-old Italian priest, Don Ubaldo Braccini, whose family helped save Jews in Gubbio during the war, but couldn't prevent the Nazi massacre of 40 local Catholics. (Supplied photos)

Author Robert Rotenberg never imagined that his newest police crime novel, written against the backdrop of European fascism, would come out at the same time that far-right political leaders are sweeping into office across the continent. Nor did he plan that What We Buried would be published in the aftermath of one of the most embarrassing moments in recent Canadian history, when lawmakers from all parties stood in the House of Commons last fall to give a standing ovation to an elderly guest who, it turned out, had been a former Nazi soldier. The incident shone a spotlight on Canada’s troubled legacy of unapologetically allowing thousands of former enemy soldiers into the country, legally, after the Second World War.

Rotenberg’s newest novel, his seventh, is a departure from his trademark police procedural material based on real-life Toronto headlines. Instead, this story has a more international scope. It revolves around a true Nazi war crime that took place 80 years ago this month in Gubbio, a small hilltop town in Italy, where the Germans massacred 40 innocent civilians on June 22, 1944.

Rotenberg joins The CJN Daily to talk about why he’s hoping the book resonates with readers in Canada, where Jewish groups have long felt the country’s never really come clean about its dark legacy of allowing Nazi soldiers to make new lives here.

What we talked about:

  • Read more about Robert Rotenberg’s book What We Buried and buy it
  • Watch the video recording of Ellin interviewing Robert Rotenberg live onstage at the University of Toronto’s Innis Hall, on the occasion of his book launch
  • Read reviews of Rotenberg’s other books in The CJN archives from 2012, and on The CJN Daily from 2022


The CJN Daily is written and hosted by Ellin Bessner (@ebessner on Twitter). Zachary Kauffman is the producer. Michael Fraiman is the executive producer. Our theme music is by Dov Beck-Levine.  We’re a member of The CJN Podcast Network. To subscribe to this podcast, please watch this video. Donate to The CJN and receive a charitable tax receipt by clicking here. Hear why The CJN is important to me.