Gino Bartali – An Italian champion in more than one way

Gino Bartali – born Ponte a Ema, Florence, Italy, 18 July 1914, died Florence, 5 May 2000 was a champion road cyclist. He was the most renowned Italian cyclist before the Second World War. He won the Giro d’Italia three times (1936, 1937, 1946) and the Tour de France in 1938. His second and last Tour de France victory in 1948 gave him the largest gap between victories in the race.

Mussolini had published a Manifesto on Race, which led to Jews being stripped of citizenship and government positions. Mussolini believed that Italian win in the Tour de France showed that Italians belonged to the master race. Bartali was invited, after winning the race in 1938, to dedicate his win to Mussolini. He refused; risking his life by insulting the fascist leader.

In 1943. The German army occupied northern and central parts of Italy  and began sending Jews to concentration camps. Bartali, a devout Catholic, was asked by the Cardinal of Florence, Archbishop Elia Dalla Costa, to join a secret network offering protection and safe passage to Jews.

Bartali used his fame to carry messages and documents to the Italian Resistance. Bartali cycled from Florence through Tuscany, Umbria, and Marche, sometimes traveling as far as Rome, all the while wearing the racing jersey emblazoned with his name. Neither the Fascist police nor the German troops risked discontent by arresting him. In 1943, he led Jewish refugees towards the Swiss Alps himself. He cycled pulling a wagon with a secret compartment, with hidden escaping Jews, telling patrols it was just part of his training. Bartali told his son Andrea only that “One does these things and then that’s that”. Eventually he was arrested and questioned by the head of the Fascist secret police in Florence, where he lived.For a period he went into hiding, living incognito in the town of Citta Di Castello in Umbria. This didn’t stop him from continuing to assist Jews.

It emerged in December 2010 that Bartali risked his life by hiding a Jewish family in his cellar. In September 2013, 13 years after his death, Bartali was recognized as a “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem for his efforts to aid Jews during World War II.

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