Ahead of Giro d’Italia, Gino Bartali honored for heroism during WWII

A 14 km. cycling trail in the Haruvit Forest was named after the late Italian cyclist and Righteous Among the Nations Gino Bartali on Thursday, one day before the Giro d’Italia’s Big Start in Jerusalem.

An inauguration ceremony held by Keren Kayemet L’Israel-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) and KKL Italy, sought to memorialize Bartali’s heroism during World War II.

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Born in Florence in 1914, Bartali was a champion road cyclist who won the Italian Giro d’Italia multistage race three times (in 1936, 1937 and 1946) and the Tour de France twice (in 1938 and 1948). Owing to his remarkable accomplishments in sports, he became a popular and widely admired national hero. Giro d‘Italia Cyclists Ride through Yad Vashem (Credit: Yad Vashem/YouTube)

Bartali used sport to save hundreds of Jews from Nazi persecution by cycling through Italy to carry messages and false documents to the Italian resistance. It was also discovered, ten years after his passing, that Bartali hid a Jewish family during World War II.

Among those attending the ceremony were his granddaughter Gioia Bartali; Italian Ambassador Gianluigi Benedetti; vice chairman of KKL-JNF Directorate Nisan Cialic; president of KKL Italy Sergio Castelbolognesi; as well as senior members of the Israel Cycling Academy who will participate in this year’s race.

On Wednesday, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center Yad Vashem, hosted participants of the Israel Cycling Academy and leadership of the Giro d’ Italia at an event posthumously bestowing Commemorative Citizenship of the State of Israel on Bartali.

Cyclists from the Giro d’Italia participated in a Memorial Ride through Yad Vashem’s campus, concluding in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev presented the certificate of commemorative citizenship to Gioia Bartali in the presence of Benedetti and honorary president of Giro d’Italia Big Start Sylvan Adams.

A number of Holocaust survivors gave testimony to Yad Vashem regarding Barali’s wartime rescue efforts. After the war, Bartali refused to speak of his underground work during the German occupation. Hence, many of his courageous endeavors remain unknown.

Yad Vashem posthumously recognized Bartali as Righteous Among the Nations in 2013. His name is engraved on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations on the Mount of Remembrance.

At Wednesday’s ceremony, Shalev recalled Bartali’s motivation to “do the right thing even against the majority,” making the story “so relevant to us today. We will continue to be inspired by his story and remember it for generations to come.”

Adams called Bartali “the greatest cyclist of his era, but he was an even greater human being. The entire Giro this year is dedicated to the memory of Gino Bartali – an Italian hero, a hero of the Jewish people, and a hero of mankind.”

Gioia Bartali, who had lost her father earlier this year, said she was standing in Yad Vashem today “as Gino’s granddaughter, bringing the testimony of his heroic actions… My grandfather was a great champion of sport,” she said, “but today he will be remembered as a champion of life.”