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About Gino Bartali

Gino Bartali was a cyclist of a rare kind.

The full story of the legendary Italian champion, who was famous for his victories in the world's top cycling races (the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France) in the 1930s and 1940s, has only been revealed to the world in recent years. But Bartali's story is far greater than sports. It is a story of heroism, humanity, modesty and human love.


With extraordinary courage and daring, Bartali risked his life as he cycled hundreds of kilometers across Italy, hiding inside his bicycle frame fake identity documents which helped rescue Italian Jews. In all, Bartali helped save the lives of some 800 Jews, including the Goldenberg family, whom he hid in the basement of his home in Florence during the war.


Bartali, who became famous all over the world for his sporting achievements, never told anyone about his heroic deeds during the war.


Bartali grew up in Tuscany as a poor boy and a member of a working-class family from the city of Florence. As a child, Bartali worked for months in arduous manual labor to earn a sum that would allow him to purchase his first bicycle, which served him as a means of transportation to school.


Young Bartali was captivated by the charms of cycling and trained hard throughout his youth to become a professional athlete. After years of hard work and thousands of kilometers on heavy iron bikes, Bartali managed in 1938 to win the Tour de France, the most prestigious and difficult race in the world. However, when asked by the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini to dedicate his victory to the fascist regime, Bartali vehemently refused, despite sharp threats from regime supporters. This was not the last time Bartali was required to adhere to his values ​​and bravely face a cruel regime.


In 1943, during World War II, Nazi German forces invaded northern Italy and set out to eliminate the Jews who lived there at the time.

Bartali, who was a staunch Catholic, was called upon by the Bishop of Florence, Elia della Costa, to assist the Christian-Jewish underground organization he had  co-founded with the Head of Florence’s Jewish community, Rabbi Natan Cassuto, to help Italian Jews escape the country and save their lives. Bartali did not hesitate. He took on the role of courier and began a series of secret trips aimed at smuggling the fake documents for the Jews.

Bartali used his popularity to slip the watchful eyes of the regime. Under the guise of "training", he embarked on a series of trips around Italy, helping to pass on the forged documents and took advantage of his reputation as a national cycling champion knowing the local police would not suspect him.


When information arrived about  a group of refugees in the area, Bartali used to go out to meet them as part of his training while wearing a shirt bearing his name in order to help him identify himself as the renowned rider. He collected the refugee photographs for the certificates from the monasteries and brought them to a laboratory in the city of Assisi, where they were embedded in forged identity documents. The documents were then hidden again inside the tubes of Bartali's bike frame. A day later, Bartali would return with the forged certificates to the hiding place of the refugees.


All this took place under the watchful eyes of the fascist police and the German army. Searches, which were nevertheless carried out in Bartali’s belongings from time to time at roadblocks, yielded nothing. He was once summoned for questioning at Villa Triste, the fascist police investigation headquarters where torture and executions were carried out. During his interrogation, he was warned not to contact the underground organization. After this interrogation, Bartali sent his family into hiding and continued his actions to assist the underground.


Around that time, Bartali complied with a request from a friend of his family, Giorgio Goldenberg, and helped hide his family in the basement of his home in Florence during the war.


Throughout Bartali’s life, many events symbolize the special values ​​that guided his choices.

At the end of World War II, Bartali returned to competition, but found it difficult to compete against new rivals who were many years younger than him.

However, on July 14, 1948, Bartali did something unbelievable and against all odds,  on the last day of the race,  he managed to overcome the huge gap between him and his opponents,  winning the Tour de France, 10 years after his previous victory and thus become the only rider to win the French race by such a gap between victories.

The story of the victory in the Tour de France in 1948 is even more significant, as at the time of his victory, Bartali helped raise national morale at a historic and critical moment, the eve of an assassination attempt on the Communist Party, thus helping to prevent civil war.

"Some medals are pinned to your soul, not to your jacket” - Gino Bartali


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