Gino Bartali is an Italian cycling hero. He won the Tour de France twice and the Giro d’Italia three times. But his accomplishments go far beyond cycling, as he also helped save the lives of hundreds of Jews during World War II.
Bartali's efforts will be the subject of an animated film, released this year, that tells the story of a Jewish and an Arab boy who accept the challenge of winning a cycling together.
The Tour de France champion used his fame to smuggle fake documents in the frame of his bike so Jews could escape the Holocaust.
He pretended to be going on training rides across the Tuscan countryside to fool Nazi authorities but instead carried messages and photographs to the Italian resistance who produced counterfeit papers. "Gino the Pious" as he was also known because of his religious upbringing, would cycle from town to town with papers hidden in his bike.
The papers were turned into forged identity papers in clandestine print-shops.
The cyclist would then deliver the papers to Jews hidden in convents that formed part of a network set up by Jewish accountant Giorgio Nissim, according to Italian media. This way the famous cyclist helped save the lives of 800 Jews.
Bartali reportedly asked police not to search his bicycle as the different parts were carefully calibrated to achieve maximum speed whenever he was stopped and searched.
According to Italian media, the cyclist also hid a Jewish family in his Florence home to save them from being taken to a concentration camp.
The Italian government started uncovering Bartali’s secrets until after his death in 2000.
A biography of Bartali — "A Road to Valour" — was published in 2012 by authors Aili and Andres McConnon.
A year later, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, Yad Vashem, recognized Bartali as a “Righteous Among the Nations” for his efforts to save Jews during the war.