|Cycling great bartali honoured as holocaust hero (Photo/Ansa.it)|
(ANSA) - Tel Aviv, September 23 - Italian cycling legend Gino Bartali has been recognized as 'Righteous Among the Nations' by the Israeli museum of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, which formally added him Monday onto the honour roll of the gentiles who helped Jews escape the Holocaust.
In a citation entitled Racing to Save Lives, Yad Vashem said the honour was a tribute to the two-time Tour de France winner and devout Catholic's role in rescuing Jews by biking forged documents around central Italy, along with other papers for the Italian Resistance, during the German occupation of Italy in World War II.
In Florence, Bartali's son Andrea told ANSA "it's a magnificent thing".
He confirmed he and his mother had been invited by the Israeli government for a cycling event named after the great Tuscan's honour next month. Guido Vitale of the Italian Jewish community's monthly Pagine Ebraiche (Jewish Pages) said: "Gino Bartali was a huge champion, on the pedals and in life. Yad Vashem's prize is a just reward for exemplary human conduct".
Pagine Ebraiche recalled numerous examples of Bartali's "courage, daring and selflessness," noting that he hid Jews including a nine-year-old boy called Giorgio Goldenberg in his Florentine apartment.
"I'm alive because Bartali hid us in his cellar," a now 81-year-old Goldenberg said from his home in the Israeli town of Kfar Saba. Yad Vashem said Bartali, a three-time Giro d'Italia champion whose rivalry with Fausto Coppi thrilled postwar Italy, "came to play an important role in the rescue of Jews in the framework initiated by (archbishop Elia Angelo) Dalla Costa and Rabbi Nathan Cassuto". Dalla Costa was also recognized a righteous among the nations by Yad Vashem in 2012. This Jewish-Christian network set up following the German occupation in September 1943 and the start of the deportation of Jews saved the lives of hundreds of Italian Jews and Jews who had fled from territories previously under Italian control, Yad Vashem said. Bartali acted as a courier for the network, hiding forged documents in the handlebar and frame of his bicycle and transporting them across a wide area with the excuse that he was training. "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," Yad Vashem said. Though he knew he was risking his life to help Jews, Bartali transferred forged documents to various contacts including rabbi Cassuto, the Holocaust memorial also noted. "After the war Bartali never spoke of his underground work during the German occupation. Hence many of his courageous endeavors remain unknown," the museum said.
It recalled that: "Sara Corcos, who worked for the Jewish Contemporary Documentation Centre 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". Yad Vashem said Bartali, who died aged 85 in 2000, will be honoured in a ceremony in Italy which has yet to be scheduled.