Yad Vashem announced Monday that it had posthumously recognized Italian public figure Gino Bartali as Righteous Among the Nations.
Bartali, a devout Catholic, was a champion road cyclist who won the Tour de France twice, and the Giro d'Italia multi-stage race three times. He was involved in a Jewish-Christian rescue network led by Rabbi Nathan Cassuto of Florence and the Archbishop of Florence, Cardinal Elia Angelo Dalla Costa. Yad Vashem recognized the latter as Righteous Among the Nations in 2012. The rescue network was established on the heels of the German occupation of Italy in September 1943, when Jews began to be deported.
Yad Vashem said that Bartali's role in the network was to serve as a courier, transporting forged documents between cities to Jews, concealing them inside the handlebar and seat of his bicycle. He used his sport training as a cover, risking his life in the process in order to save Jews. Apparently, when the cyclist was stopped and searched, he requested that his bicycle not be touched, telling authorities that it was adjusted in a specific manner so as to reach maximum speed.
According to Yad Vashem, the network saved hundreds of local Jews and Jewish refugees from formerly Italian-controlled areas, mainly in France and Yogoslavia.
Yad Vashem's account of Bartali's story relates that he also forged documents produced by another rescue network, the Assisi, which was initiated by members of a church in his town.
"After the war Bartali never spoke of his underground work during the German occupation. Hence many of his courageous endeavors remain unknown," Yad Vashem recounts.
A ceremony, which is yet to be scheduled, is expected to be held in Italy in honor of Bartali's new title.