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The Greatest Race of His Life

Gino Bartali (Photo: Fulgur Photo-Press. Collectie SPAARNESTAD PHOTO)

Gino Bartali

Life: July 18, 1914 - May 5, 2000

A native of Florence, Italy, Gino Bartali made his name before World War II as a champion bicyclist, winning the Tour de France twice and becoming an Italian national hero. But it was during the war that Bartali would show his true heroism.

When the Nazis occupied Italy in September of 1943, Bartali began working as a courier for the resistance, while also playing a role in rescuing Jews for an underground network run by Rabbi Nathan Cassuto and Archbishop Dalla Costa, who himself would be named Righteous Among the Nations.

Because of his regular training rides, Bartali was able to use his practice as cover for transporting forged documents from one place to another, for Rabbi Cassuto's rescue operation, as well as for the Assisi network, an operation run by Christians in the town. When Nazis would stop Bartali to search him, he wouldn't let them touch his bike — where the documents had been hidden — telling them its parts were carefully calibrated for speed.

After the war, Bartali didn't speak of his heroic work, which was left relatively unknown. He refused to be interviewed, saying he had been motivated by his conscience. Only after a descendant of Rabbi Cassuto asked Bartali to share his experiences did the humble cyclist agree to speak. For his important and dangerous work during the Holocaust, Gino Bartali was named Righteous Among the Nations in 2013.


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