Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bartali - Tribute to the Italian Champion on Holocaust Memorial Day

We have written in the past about Gino Bartali's efforts to help Jews in WWII, and to save lives of Catholics and dissidents; he also used his position to bring information and documents to the Italian resistance movement. The following was received on January 27th, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, from the La Fondazione Gino Bartali Onlus:

"One of the greatest champions in the history of cycling, Gino Bartali, could be made one of the “Righteous” in Israel. Almost 70 years after the events, and twelve years after his death, evidence is finally coming to light of his hitherto unknown actions during the Second World War, which helped to save the lives of 800 Jews.

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. 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.

Details about Bartali’s actions began to emerge just two or three years ago, thanks to a university research project that collected testimony from a nun, Holocaust survivors and their descendants. Andrea Bartali, his son, has continued this research with the support of the Jewish community in Tuscany and the journalist Laura Guerra.

In Israel, the Yad Vashem Memorial is currently studying the evidence with a view to granting Bartali the posthumous distinction of “Righteous Among the Nations”, awarded to those who placed their lives in danger to save Jews.

Right up to his death, Bartali rarely spoke about these acts of bravery, keeping them secret even from his wife. One day he said, simply: “Good is something you do, not something you talk about. Some medals are pinned to your soul, not to your jacket.”

Towards the end of 1943 he was thrown into prison for 45 days, officially because of his support for the Vatican, which opposed the fascist regime. By chance he was never required to appear before the special war tribunal and was set free without trial.

On his release he resumed his career and won a third Giro d’Italia and a second Tour de France, while the tifosi couldn’t get enough of his legendary rivalry with Fausto Coppi.

Today the Fondazione Bartali honours his memory and reiterates one of the great champion’s sayings: “If sport is not a school of life and brotherhood, it is worthless.”"

Related stories in ICJ:

Gino Bartali: "Righteous Among the Nations" Title
Plaque Dedicated to Gino Bartali
More Gino Bartali Secrets Revealed

Follow on Twitter: ITALIANCYCJOURN

Stories for the Italian Cycling Journal about rides, granfondos, touring, having a good time cycling in Italy, Italian cycling history, etc. are always welcome. Contact me at There are more than 2,300 stories in this blog. The search feature to the right works best for finding subjects in the blog. There is also a translate button at the bottom so you can translate each page.


  1. “Good is something you do, not something you talk about. Some medals are pinned to your soul, not to your jacket.”

    Now that is a cycling hero.

  2. Larry's Bartali story - many years ago while following the Giro and Tour while working for a tour operator (before we began CycleItalia)I carried a world-champion jersey with a goal of collecting as many autographs as I could from those who'd won/worn it. I saw the great man and brought it up to him with felt pen in hand, not realizing the rainbow jersey was one of the few prizes "The Man of Iron" had never won. He waved me away, refusing to autograph a jersey he'd never won. I had nothing else for him to sign, so I missed my only chance to have Bartali's autograph - but in a way feel even more honored by the fact that he wouldn't autograph something he'd never won, even for a stupid American! RIP Gino.