"Everyone in their life has his own particular way of expressing life's purpose. I have my bicycle."
– Gino Bartali
"GOOD IS SOMETHING YOU DO, NOT SOMETHING YOU TALK ABOUT."
– Gino Bartali
An Italian cycling legend, Gino Bartali was the only athlete who ever won the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, before and after WWII. He became a national hero thanks to his achievements on the bike but his true heroism was far greater than his sportive accomplishments.
During the war Bartali risked his life, using his fame to smuggle fake documents for Italy’s Jews under the watching eyes of the Nazi regime, on behalf of the Catholic underground. Bartali hid the fake documents inside his bicycle tubes, cycling thousands of kilometers to deliver them to Jews he never knew or even met.
Bartali, who saved the lives of hundreds, never spoke of his brave deeds and hence many of his courageous endeavors remain unknown until today.
Legend on and off the bike
Bartali, born in Florence in 1914, was a champion road cyclist who won the Italian Giro d'Italia multi-stage race three times (in 1936, 1937 and 1946) and the Tour de France twice (in 1938 and 1948). Due to his remarkable sportive accomplishments, he became a most popular and widely admired national hero.
Bartali was a devout Catholic. According to his son, Andrea Bartali, Archbishop Elia Angelo Dalla Costa (recognized as Righteous Among the Nations in 2012) had married his parents and maintained a close relationship to their father. Consequently, following the German occupation of Italy in September 1943, Bartali, who was a courier for the resistance, came to play an important role in the rescue of Jews through the network initiated by Rabbi Nathan Cassuto who was then joined by Dalla Costa. Bartali, who rode long distances for training, transferred forged documents from one place to another. He also distributed forged documents that were produced by the Assisi network, another rescue operation initiated by Church people in that town. When Bartali was stopped and searched, he specifically asked that his bicycle not be touched since the different parts were very carefully calibrated to achieve maximum speed.
After the war Bartali never spoke of his underground work during the German occupation. Hence many of his courageous endeavors remain unknown. Sara Corcos, who worked for the CDEC (Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea) in Milan, told her niece, Shoshan Evron, the daughter of Rabbi Nathan Cassuto, that she had met Gino Bartali after the war. He emphatically refused to be interviewed, and said that he had been motivated by his conscience and therefore did not want to have his activity documented. Only when Corcos told him that she was related to the family of Rabbi Cassuto, a deeply moved Bartali agreed to speak, on condition that she would not record him. In the conversation that followed, Bartali told Corcos about the forged documents and about his role in distributing them.