As a fan of bicycling, and one who acknowledges that there are few heroes in that community to be found today, I was delighted to learn of the selfless acts of Gino Bartali, the professional Italian cyclist. In his New York Times obituary, written in May 2000, he is remembered as a hero for cycling, and the three-time winner of the Giro D’Italia and two-time Tour de France victor could certainly make that claim, but Yad Vashem has recently declared him a hero of a different sort.
In September, 13 years after his death at 85, Gino Bartali was named a Righteous Among the Nations for helping to save Jews during World War II. According to Yad Vashem’s statement, “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.”
As a professional cyclist, he was always on the road, riding from one town to another, but hidden in his handlebars or in a special trailer meant to make his training tougher were documents, photographs, and other materials needed to falsify the identities of Jews. On the occasions he was stopped on the road by authorities, he proclaimed that his bicycle could not be touched because parts were calibrated to his training needs.
The Yad Vashem site details that Bartali’s work extended beyond his courier persona; he helped hide and support a Jewish family. It also informs us that Bartali refused to talk about his efforts during the war, wanting no recognition or documentation. A pious man, he was motivated by his conscience. To Gino, and all the righteous, we say Amen.