The memory of Gino Bartali, the champion cyclist who risked his life to save hundreds of Italian Jews during the Holocaust, is set to be honored with the establishment with a youth leadership school in his name.
Italian Bartali, one of the world’s leading cyclists during the 1930s winning three Giro d’Italia titles and the 1938 Tour de France, used the handlebars on his bike to hide counterfeit identity papers, delivering them to Jews in hiding and handing over exit visas which allowed them to escape transportation to the death camps.
Bartali, who passed away at the age of 85, is credited with saving the lives of 800 people.
The announcement of the new venture was made Thursday, on Yom Hashoah, a day where Israel remembers the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II.
The school, which will be based at Ben Shemen Youth Village in Israel, south east of Tel Aviv, will officially open in September 2019.
The program will offer children between the ages of 14-17 the opportunity to apply to attend a course dedicated to training riders in mountain biking, road cycling, BMX and track cycling.
Up to 24 children from across the world will be accepted onto the course with the program dedicated to involving participants from all different faiths and socio-economic backgrounds.
‘Pride and hope’
The new program has been welcomed by the Bartali family. Granddaughter Gioia Bartali said the new initiative “fills our hope with pride and hope.”
“The values that led my beloved Grandfather are values of goodwill, diligence, modesty and helping those in need. I hope that his story and his exceptional personal example can truly serve as an inspiration for the students in the school for many years to come,” she said in a statement.
The school is the latest chapter in Bartali’s story, a story that he rarely spoke about before he passed away in 2000.
“Good is something you do, not something you talk about,” Bartali once explained. “Some medals are pinned to your soul, not to your jacket.”
In the 1930s, Bartali, Italy’s very own version of Babe Ruth, was one of cycling’s leading stars.
Born in Florence in 1914, Bartali was a devout Catholic whose parents were married by the local Cardinal, Elia Angelo Dalla Costa.
It was Dalla Costa who recruited Bartali into his secret network at a time where much of Italy had been ceded to the Nazis.
In 1938, Italy’s Fascist regime, led by Benito Mussolini, enacted a series of anti-Semitic laws which prevented Jews from working within government or education, banned intermarriage and removed them from positions in the media.
While some of the country’s Jews fled the country before the outbreak of World War II, those who stayed behind remained largely unscathed until the Germans began deportations in 1943.
It was at this time that Dalla Costa, working with Rabbi Nathan Cassuto, created a system which involved convents, monasteries and members of the general public hiding Jews in all kinds of ingenious ways.
Even after Cassuto was arrested by the Germans, deported and sent to his death, the secret network continued to operate.
Using the guise of long-distance training, Bartali would ride for hundreds of miles delivering documents while the Fascist secret police simply let him pass given their admiration for the cyclist.
Whenever he was stopped, he would simply ask that his bike not be touched since the technical set up was arranged to achieve maximum speed. After the war, he returned to competition, winning the 1948 Tour de France.
In September 2013, Bartali’s wartime heroism was honored in Israel when he was named as a “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem – Israel’s official memorial to Holocaust victims.
According to Yad Vashem 7,680 out of 44,500 Italian Jews perished during the Holocaust.