GINO BARTALI POSTHUMOUSLY RECEIVES AWARD FOR RESCUING JEWS DURING WWII
Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial authority in Jerusalem, has awarded late cycling champion Gino Bartali the honour of “Righteous Among The Nations,” which is given to non-Jews who stood up to the Nazi genocide during World War II.
Bartali helped rescue Jews during World War II by smuggling documents on his bicycle while pretending to train.
“During the German occupation of Italy, Bartali, a devout Catholic, was part of a rescue network spearheaded by Rabbi Nathan Cassuto of Florence together with the Archbishop of Florence Cardinal Elia Angelo Dalla Costa,” Yad Vashem said in a statement.
“Bartali acted as a courier for the network, secreting forged documents and papers in his bicycle and transporting them between cities, all under the guise of training. Knowingly risking his life to rescue Jews, Bartali transferred falsified documents to various contacts, among them Rabbi Cassuto.”
In 2009 — almost 70 years after the events, and nine years after his death — evidence began to emerge of Bartali’s hitherto unknown actions, which helped to save the lives of 800 Jews.
In 1943 Bartali, already a Tour de France champion and two-time winner of the Giro d’Italia, was assigned to the traffic police by the fascist regime, before leaving the job on September 8. He then went underground, choosing to help persecuted Jews by smuggling identity photos to a convent that produced counterfeit papers.
As far as the soldiers who guarded the road between Florence and San Quirico, near Assisi, were concerned, Bartali was merely on a 380-kilometre (240-mile) training run. In fact, valuable documents were hidden inside the frame and saddle of his bicycle.
Right up to his death, Bartali rarely spoke about these acts of bravery, keeping them secret even from his wife.
“Good is something you do, not something you talk about. Some medals are pinned to your soul, not to your jacket,” he once said.
Towards the end of 1943 he was thrown into prison for 45 days, officially because of his support for the Vatican, which opposed the fascist regime. By chance he was never required to appear before the special war tribunal and was set free without trial.
On his release he resumed his career and won a third Giro d’Italia and a second Tour de France, while Italian fans eagerly followed his legendary rivalry with Fausto Coppi.
The Righteous Among The Nations title has been awarded to some 24,000 people in 44 countries since it was set up in 1963. Honorees receive medals, and their names are inscribed on a dedicated wall near the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
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