Hero is undoubtedly one of the most overused words in sports.
that in this day and age, you just need to score a game-winning goal or
touchdown and you are immediately worshiped across the globe.
however, a few inspiring rarities in the world of sport who truly deserve a
Widely regarded as one of the greatest cyclists of all
time, Gino Bartali, who passed away at the age of 85 more than 13 years ago, is
one of those incredible role models whose story had been overlooked for far too
Bartali shoulders much of the responsibility for that,
never speaking of his acts of courageousness during World War II, which just two
weeks ago earned him recognition as one of the Righteous Among the Nations at
the Yad Vashem Holocaust Center in Jerusalem.
According to Yad Vashem,
“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.”
The Jewish-Christian network is believed to
have saved hundreds of local Jews and Jewish refugees, with Bartali playing a
crucial role as a courier for the resistance.
Born in Florence in 1914,
Bartali won the first of his three Giro d’Italia titles at the age of 22 (1936),
but considered calling it quits after his brother Giulio died in a racing
accident during June of that year.
He went on to defend his Giro title,
before winning it again after the war in 1946.
He also twice triumphed in
the Tour de France (1938 and 1948), cementing his position as a national hero in
In addition to his success in the Grand Tours, Gino was also a
force in one-day events. He won the Milan-San Remo four times, the Tour of
Lombardy three times, and the Championship of Zurich twice.
He retired in
1954 at the age of 40 after picking up more than 170 professional
But it was what Bartali achieved during the war due to the
standing he had acquired in the sporting arena that makes him worthy of all
Bartali was allowed to cycle for hundreds of kilometers for
training purposes (often completing the 176-kilometer route between Florence and
Assisi) and he took advantage of that to transfer forged documents that were
hidden in the frame and seat of his bicycle.
According to his son,
Andrea, Bartali would also go on training rides to Genoa, where he would collect
money that a Jewish lawyer had withdrawn from a Swiss bank account in Geneva and
take it to Florence where he would distribute it among Jewish families in
He played a significant part in the rescue of Jews within the
network set up by Dalla Costa and Rabbi Nathan Cassuto, while also distributing
forged documents that were produced by the Assisi network, which afforded
hundreds of Jews a safe haven in churches, monasteries and
Despite his status, Bartali was still stopped and searched, but
he avoided being caught by keeping his bicycle off limits, specifically asking
that it not be touched as it had been carefully calibrated for racing
Among the many Jews who owe their lives to Bartali is the
family of Renzo Ventura, with his mother, Marcella Frankenthal-Ventura, telling
him that she and her parents and sister had received false papers from the
Bartali also helped hide Jews during the war, with Shlomo
Goldenberg- Paz telling Yad Vashem that he and his parents had taken shelter in
an apartment belonging to the cyclist in Florence.
Until his death,
Bartali adamantly refused to talk about his war time endeavors, adding humility
to a long list of traits.
A champion in life, as well as in sports,
Bartali demonstrated moral endurance when almost all others turned a blind
He risked his life to save people he never met because he felt that
was the right thing to do.
Finally Bartali is being recognized
internationally for his deeds, with the honorary acknowledgment from Yad Vashem
coming a year after the publishing of a book recounting his life story named
“Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who
Inspired a Nation” by Aili McConnon and Andres McConnon.
In the book, he
is quoted as telling son Andrea: “If you’re good at a sport, they attach the
medals to your shirts and then they shine in some museum. That which is earned
by doing good deeds is attached to the soul and shines elsewhere.”
in the darkest of times, Bartali’s virtue continued to glow.
doesn’t do him justice.