In this summer of 2018, meet the late Gino Bartali, a Tour de France bicycle race winner who helped hundreds of Jews escape the Holocaust during World War Two. He’s not only an Italian cycling hero for winning the Tour de France three times, but he’s now the star of a new animated movie about his life during the war when he helped save the lives of hundreds of Italian Jews.
The animated film titled “Bartali’s Bicycle” tells the story of a Jewish and an Arab boy who accept the challenge of winning a cycling event together. Sabrina Callipari the producer told the Italian media: “This story had to be told because not everyone knows it, that’s why we started this project. The animation was for us the appropriate way to create it also for children and a larger audience as well. We hope people can understand sports can still be “clean”.
Born in 1915, the same year as this blogger’s father, Bartali’s first and last wins (in 1937 and 1952) spanned 15 years.
Evelina Poggi, a co-producer, added: “The work on this movie took a long time because we needed to find the right concept, in order to tell this story in the right way. This story is somehow a souvenir, a memory but it had to be tailored for today”.
The animated film tells the story of a Jewish lad and an Arab boy who are inspired by the great cyclist Gino Bartali. The two boys fight hard to win a cycling tour by violating the rules but making peace and tolerance triumph between their communities.
Bartali used his cycling fame to smuggle fake documents in the frame of his bike so Jews could escape the Holocaust.
How did he do it? It’s a story worthy of Steven Spielberg movie. But this time it’s a cartoon.
The Italian media tells this story: ”[Bartali 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 Roman Catholic 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, according to the story.
The cyclist would then deliver the papers to Jews hidden in convents that formed part of a network set up by Italian-Jewish accountant Giorgio Nissim, according to Italian media. This way the famous cyclist helped save the lives of some 800 Jews.
Bartali had a good idea, too, to help keep the police at bay. He reportedly asked police not to search his bicycle since the different parts were carefully calibrated to achieve maximum speed whenever he was stopped and searched he told them. It worked.
According to Italian media, the cyclist also hid a Jewish family in his Florence home to save them from being taken to a Nazi concentration camp.
Bartali died in 2000 at the age of 85 and went straight to heaven.
A book about him titled “The Road to Valor” was in published in English in 2012.
A year later, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, Yad Vashem, recognized Bartali as a ”Righteous Among the Nations” for his efforts to save Jews during the war.