US chronicler of Italian history Katz dies at 77

AP News
Posted: Oct 21, 2010 12:27 PM
US chronicler of Italian history Katz dies at 77

American writer and historian Robert Katz, whose meticulous reconstruction of an infamous Nazi massacre in Rome brought him fame and sparked a trial over whether he defamed the pope, has died in Italy, his family said Thursday. He was 77.

Katz, who had been a longtime resident of Tuscany, died in a hospital there on Wednesday. His wife Beverly Gerstel told The Associated Press that the author died from complications from cancer surgery.

Katz wrote extensively on 20th-century Italian history in books, essays and articles, some of which were made into films. In "Days of Wrath," Katz chronicled the 1978 kidnapping and killing of Aldo Moro, a former premier, at the hands of the Red Brigades. In "The Battle for Rome" he looked at the months that followed the fall of Benito Mussolini at the end of World War II.

But it was his book "Death in Rome" _ and the subsequent movie based on it, called "Massacre in Rome" _ that made the biggest splash. The book dealt with one of the worst Nazi atrocities in occupied Italy, the 1944 slaughter by German troops of 335 innocent Italian men at the Ardeatine Caves in retaliation for an attack by Italian partisans the day before.

The book, first published in 1967, stirred controversy because it suggested Pope Pius XII did not intervene to stop the massacre even though he knew about the Nazis' plans. When the movie came out, a relative of the late pontiff brought a lawsuit against Katz.

According to Katz's website, a two-year criminal trial ended with the author being convicted and sentenced to 14 months in prison for defaming the pope's memory. The verdict was overturned on appeal and later the case was dismissed by Italy's highest court, the website said.

Years later, the movie based on "Days of Wrath" about the Moro case also caused controversy for taking the view that Moro's death could have been prevented. His book, "The Cassandra Crossing, " about European train travelers exposed to Bubonic plague, was made into a film starring Sophia Loren, Burt Lancaster and Richard Harris.

Katz also wrote on the case of Erich Priebke, a former Nazi SS captain who was extradited to Italy from Argentina in 1994 and convicted in Rome for his role in the Ardeatine Caves massacre.

A native of Brooklyn, Katz moved to Italy in the mid-1960s, first living in Rome and then in a country house near Arezzo in Tuscany.

"I was following a grand old tradition," he said about his move to the Italian capital in 1964. "It had been created by some of the great American writers and artists of the 19th century, and like them, I'd set out to pursue and court the 'mistress of the world.'"

Katz is survived by his wife Gerstel, his two sons Stephen and Jonathan, and three grandchildren. The family said the funeral would be private and did not release details on burial plans.