Tributes have been paid to cycling great Gino Bartali, with evidence now showing that he helped save the lives of up to 800 Jews during World War II. The Yad Vashem Memorial in Israel is looking into giving him the title "Righteous Among the Nations", a term used by Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis.
The details about the Italian's actions in the 1940s have only just recently come to light, through a university study. His son, Andrea, has continued the research along with the Jewish community and journalist Laura Guerra.
“In 1943 Bartali, who had already won the Tour de France once and the Giro d’Italia twice, was assigned to the traffic police by the fascist regime, before leaving the job on 8 September,” according to the UCI. “That was when he went underground, choosing to help persecuted Jews by smuggling identity photos to a convent that produced counterfeit papers.
“As far as the soldiers who guarded the road between Florence and San Quirico, near Assisi, were concerned, Bartali was merely on a 380-km training run. In fact, valuable documents were hidden inside the frame and saddle of his bicycle.”
Bartali remained modest about his actions, not even telling his wife. His own public comment was “Good is something you do, not something you talk about. Some medals are pinned to your soul, not to your jacket.”
He was imprisoned for 45 days in late 1943, officially because of his support for the Vatican, which opposed the fascist regime. However, he was never tried and was ultimately released.