Hundred years ago today, on the 18th of July, 1914, was born a heroic personality, who’d end up, not just being a champion road cyclist, but also a war hero, who’ll save the lives of, as many as, 800 to 900 Jews, during the second World War, Gino Bartali.

Gino Bartali in 1936

Gino Bartali in 1936

The Cyclist
Gino Bartali was born to a small farming family in Ponte a Ema, Florence, Italy. He grew up in a deeply religious family (of the Catholic faith) in Tuscany. By 13 Gino was working in a bicycle shop and started racing around the same time. He started racing professionally in 1935 when he was 21. By 1936, he was an Italian champion. When he got married; on 14 November 1940, the wedding being blessed by Pope Pius XII (who held office from 1939 to 1958); Bartali donated his bicycle to the Pope. Gino won the ‘Giro d’Italia’ three times, in 1936, 1937 and 1946, and the ‘Tour de France’ twice, with a gap of ten years, in 1938 and 1948. Gino stopped racing when he was 40, after being injured in a road accident.

The War Hero
During the Second World War, Gino Bartali, helped a lot of Jews by carrying false (non-Jewish) identifications for the Jews that were being persecuted under Nazi oppressed Italy, during the Italian Social Republic, which had become a puppet state of Nazi Germany during that period. He carried these falsified identifications, messages and other documents, to the Italian Resistance, by rolling up and hiding the papers, in the saddle seat post and head tube under the handle. Bartali cycled from Florence, through Tuscany, to Umbria, Marche, and sometimes travelling as far away as Rome, all the while wearing the racing jersey emblazoned with his name.

Through Pope Pius XII (and the Archbishop of Genoa and the Franciscan Friars), Gino Bartali, helped Giorgio Nissim, a Jewish accountant from Pisa, help save 800 Italian Jews escape during the war, by carrying out forged documents and needed photographs. Gino used to leave Florence in the morning, pretending to train, rode to a convent in which the Jews were hiding, collected their photographs and rode back to Nissim. Gino Bartali used his position to learn about raids on safe-houses as well.

Gino Bartali, on suspicion, was taken ‘Villa Triste’ in Florence. The Sicherheitsdienst, intelligence agent of the SS, and the Italian RSS office, and questioned Gino, threatening his life. Luck was on his side, when one of the soldiers turned out to be a fan of the cyclist, who intervened and saved Gino’s life, just as he was about to be tortured.

Gino, a devout catholic, continued to secretly help the Jews. In 1943, he led Jewish refugees towards the Swiss Alps himself. He cycled pulling a wagon with a secret compartment, telling patrols it was just part of his training. Gino also hid a Jewish family in his cellar, by doing so saved their lives.

In year 2000, Gino Bartali had a bypass surgery yet died of a heart attack on the 5th of May, Year 2000.

Last Year, having gained great respect, for his efforts to aid Jews during World War II, Gino Bartali was given recognition, with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. There is also Piazza Gino Bartali, in Florence, in his honour.

Nuwan Sen’s Historical Sense
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