The Race of His Life

Stand for Israel  |  July 6, 2021

Gino Bartali at start of bicycle race
(Photo: wikicommons/Daan Noske/Anefo)

A native of Florence, Italy, Gino Bartali made his name before World War II as a champion bicyclist, winning the Tour de France twice, an Italian national hero. But during the war Bartali acted as a Hero of the Holocaust.

When the Nazis occupied Italy in September of 1943, Bartali worked 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, both also Righteous Gentiles.

Because of his regular training rides, Bartali used his practice as cover for transporting forged documents from one place to another, for Rabbi Cassuto’s rescue operation, and for the Assisi network, an operation run by Christians in the town. When Nazis stopped Bartali to search him, he never them touch his bike — which hid the documents — telling them its parts had been 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, Yad Vashem named Gino Bartali Righteous Among the Nations in 2013.

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