Remember Gino Bartali: Italian Star Cyclist Who Helped Jews during WWII

Gino Bartali was a famous Italian cyclist, a favorite of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini because of his winning the Tour de France on the night of the Second World War. But the man, a devout Catholic, also saved countless of Jews from the hands of the Nazis.

Gino Bartali was the renowned rival of Fausto Coppi, the other cyclist Italy idolized throughout the era. He had three Giri d’Italia under his sleeve. Added to that were two Tours de France, which he had won a decade apart from each other. Gino Bartali enjoyed a stellar cycling career, which paralleled the Second World War. Legends even had it that, at one point, Gino Bartali was able to save Italy from going through a civil war shortly after WWII.

According to the stories, as Gino Bartali struggled through the Tour de France July of 1948, Palmiro Togliatti, the country’s communist leader, was shot and almost ended up dead. This escalated the tensions which were already in existence before the incident. That almost ended in an internal war.

Gino Bartali had been far down the board when the shooting happened. However, he was able to pull through to win the following three consecutive stages plus another later on, emerging as that year’s winner of the Tour. The news was greeted with so much delight back in his home country. Former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti, later on, acknowledged that the win was one of the contributory factors which eased the boiling strain.

Nevertheless, the most praiseworthy achievements Gino Bartali did were not within the cycling competitions he competed in. They were outside of them while no eyes were looking.

When Italy surrendered to the Allied Forces on September 1943, the country was plunged into a civil conflict with the northern and central area becoming part of Musollini’s puppet government to the Nazis, Gino Bartali was understood to have helped Jews at the risk of deportation to concentration camps escape by stashing counterfeit papers in his bike’s frame, going through the country and giving these to them.

Italian cyclist Gino Bartali in action
Italian cyclist Gino Bartali in action

Furthermore, a son of a Jewish survivor, Giorgio Goldenberg, attested in an interview way back in 2010 that Gino Bartali took his whole family in. he, then, hid them in his cellar until the liberation of Florence occurred in 1944.

Gino Bartali never shared these wartime feats to the public, which, according to some he carried out on the orders of the archbishop of Florence. He did tell his son, Andrea, snippets of it from time to time.

Just last year, Gino Bartali was posthumously given the title Righteous Among the Nations. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, awarded him the title.

Gino Bartali died way back in 2000. But Tuscany, his home region, never forget to honor their own. Just last July 18, Friday, a parade, dinner and a special bike ride were held to commemorate the achievements of Gino Bartali in and out of his cycling career. Free museum tours were also done in his honor.

In an interview with a news outfit earlier this year, Andre Bartali recalled the one time he asked his father why he couldn’t tell anyone about his good deeds during the war. The older Bartali answered him with these apt words:

Gino Bartali in his old age
Gino Bartali in his old age

“Doing good but broadcasting it to others is taking advantage of the other’s misfortunes for your own personal gains”.

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE