Thursday, October 10, 2013

Gino Bartali Honored by Yad Vashem

Italian Cyclist Honored Posthumously for Wartime Heroism 




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Bartali has earned respect for his work in helping Jews who were being persecuted by the Nazis during the time of the Italian Social Republic. It emerged in December 2010 that Bartali had hidden a Jewish family in his cellar and according to one of the survivors, by doing so saved their lives. 
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 afield 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. 
Giorgio Nissim, a Jewish accountant from Pisa,was a member of DELASEM, founded by the Union of the Israelitic Communities to help Jewish Italians escape persecution. The network in Tuscany was discovered in autumn 1943 and all members except Nissim sent to concentration camps. He met Pope Pius XII and, with the help of the Archbishop of Genoa, the Franciscan Friars and others he reorganized DELASEM and helped 800 escape. 
Nissim died in 2000. His sons found from his diaries that Bartali had used his fame to help. Nissim and the Oblati Friars of Lucca forged documents and needed photographs of those they were helping. Bartali 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. Bartali used his position to learn about raids on safehouses. 
Bartali was eventually taken to Villa Triste in Florence. The SD and the Italian RSS office, Mario Carit√† questioned Bartali, threatening his life. Bartali simply answered "I do what I feel [in my heart]." 
Bartali continued with the Assisi Underground. 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. Bartali told his son Andrea only that "one does these things and then that's that." 
In June 2012 a book about Bartali's wartime activities, Road To Valor, by Aili and Andres McConnon, was published. 
In 2013 Yad Vashem recognized Gino Bartali the title of Righteous Among the Nations.