The last few years around this time I launch into teaching a unit on Anne Frank, the Holocaust, Genocide, and tolerance. It is one of my favorite lessons because I find the history so compelling, the evil perpetrated so hard to convey and comprehend, and the heroes of this era so extraordinary in the face of those evils. In particular, I always take my students on a symbolic "death march," stripping away, at their rights, possessions, loved ones, to give them some small sense of the inhumanity of that time (and still goes on today).
I'm also delighted when I can bring in a few bicycle touchstones of the era (I can't help myself) such as the right to bicycle being taken away if you were Jewish or bikes coming to be known as symbolic of the Resistance in World War II (in some ways I could argue that bicycles are still seen as "resisting" the status quo). So I was delighted to see this piece on Gino Bartali, Tour de France and Giro winner, being honored for helping to save Jews during the Holocaust. Something more to pass on to my students. I particularly love the quote at the end: "Good is something you do, not something you talk about."
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.”