Friday, July 1, 2016

WOULD YOU RISK YOUR LIFE TO SAVE A STRANGER?


There were many unsung heroes during World War II. One person's valor came to the public's attention after the war was over. The hero was the the Babe Ruth and Clark Gable of his time, the great Italian bicycle champion, Gino Bartali.

 Gino Bartali was born in this house in Pont a Ema on the outskirts of Florence in 1914. His family was very poor. His father had an old bicycle which Gino coveted with a passion.  After Gino got his own second hand bike he soon began his racing journey and became a national hero of Italy.

 Gino being held up on the shoulders of his fans after winning the Giro d'Italia.

Gino Bartali was leading the 1937 Tour de France when he crashed and had to abandon. Can you imagine riding on the mountains on rutted and rocky dirt roads?

Gino's world was about to become very dangerous after he received a message in 1943 to meet with one of his racing fans,....Cardinal Dalla Costa of Florence. Italy had been governed by a fascist regime since 1925 and Hitler looked at Mussolini's fascist government as a model for Nazism. In 1938 Benito Mussolini enacted a series of anti-semitic laws. In the early 1940's many Italian Jews came to Florence hoping to leave the country or hide until the war was over. The one thing they needed were new identity documents.  Cardinal Dalla Costa asked Gino,...."Would you risk your life to save a stranger." Gino, a devout Catholic, pondered the Cardinal's request and said "Yes." He would become the Cardinal's messenger.

A printer in the town of Assisi agreed to produce new documents, but first he needed photographs. Gino would ride his bike to locations where Jews were hidden and collect photographs and other documents,...and hide them rolled up in his seat tube. Fascist police and German soldiers were used to seeing Gino ride around the Tuscan and Umbrian countryside during his many training rides. Little did they know he was carrying documents which would save hundreds of Jews!


One day he was brought into the Fascist police headquarters and interrogated by a vicious police major famous for his cruelty. Gino thought his life was over. Only by luck was he released from his jail cell after another policeman, a big racing fan, vouched for his honesty. He continued his dangerous messenger duties riding hundreds of miles with precious documents! He even personally hid a Jewish family, the Goldenberg's, in a home he owned. He never talked about his activities during the war. The true story of his heroism came out after the war when someone read the journals of a priest who was involved in hiding Jews. It is thought that Gino's activities may have saved the lives of over 600 Italian Jews. 7680 Italian Jews were killed by the Nazis and fascists in Italy. I wonder whether I could risk everything like Gino did.


Gino Bartali won the Tour de France in 1938 and was hailed as a national hero. After the war Gino started racing again. Many believed he was too old and washed up, but Gino was very stubborn and driven to be a winner again! He entered the 1948 Tour with a dream, but not much support from his fans. This is Gino riding up the summit of the famous Tourmalet.


He is pushing the shifters on his back gear during the 1948 race. His fans and the press had given up hope as Gino was 21minutes down on the leader,...but you can "Never underestimate the heart of a champion!' The Italian Prime Minister called him after one of the stages to tell him to win, as "Italy needs you now more than ever!" Italy was in the middle of a terrible political crisis between the Christian Democrats and the Communists, and the Prime Minister thought his victory would help unify the country!


Bartali surprised everyone with his grit and strength as he suffered through snow and rain and erased the 21 minute deficit and WON the 1948 Tour de France 10 years after his first victory. He was a national hero once again. The political crises was abated with both sides celebrating Gino's amazing win!


What an amazing person he was! Pope John XXIII was a big fan and even asked Gino to teach him to ride a bicycle.


In 2013 Gino son, Andrea, came to the Vid Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, as his father was named "Righteous among the Nations, an honor for those who helped save Jews during the war.


The McConnon's book, "Road to Valor", is a great book about Gino Bartali's life and Italy during the war. I highly recommend it!

I read another great Bartali qoute: "Real heroes are others, those who suffered in their soul, in their heart, in their spirit, in their mind, for their loved ones. Those are the real heroes. I'm just a cyclist."

***The Movie, "My Italian Secret" is about Gino and others in Italy who risked their lives to save Jews during the war. This is the trailer for the film.




NEXT WEEK'S GENTRY CONNECTS: I will attempt the steep climb to visit the Madonna del Ghisallo, the chapel of the cyclist, and see Gino Bartali's bicycle!

3 comments :

  1. I had never heard of this man before, so I am grateful to the person or persons who posted this entire story!!!!! What an amazing man Gino Bartali was!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  2. I had never heard of this man before, so I am grateful to the person or persons who posted this entire story!!!!! What an amazing man Gino Bartali was!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was totally fascinated by the story as well. It mean't even more since I was cycling in Italy last week!

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