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Gino Bartali during a race in 1945. He was humble, deeply religious and a hero in every sense of the word.

Italian Champion Cyclist Remembered as War Hero

Il Circolo, The Italian Cultural Society of Florida, recently hosted the showing of the documentary “My Italian Secret, The Forgotten Heroes.”

The evening began with the reading of a letter sent to Il Circolo’s Sally Valenti from Barbara Aiello, an Italian rabbi from Calabria. The moving letter provided a fitting prologue to the film.

The film “My Italian Secret, The Forgotten Heroes” was beautifully filmed in Italy, with Italian actress Isabella Rossellini narrating the documentary. The attention of the audience was gripped from start to finish as they watched individuals recount their stories of the Holocaust. Their tales of suffering were punctuated with stories of courage, as Italian men and women placed their lives on the line to help Jews escape torture and death.

A central figure in the film is Gino Bartali, the most renowned Italian cyclist of the pre-war and postwar eras. He was a three-time winner of the Giro d’Italia and twice winner of the Tour de France. Nicknamed ‘Gino the Pious’ because of his strong religious beliefs, he was bestowed the honor of Cavaliere di Gran Croce by the Italian government for his sporting achievements.

Details of what he did during WWII only emerged after his death. Bartali hid a Jewish family in his cellar during the war, saving them from unspeakable peril and death. Bartali used his fame to carry messages to the Italian Resistance and falsified documents for Jews who were in hiding as he cycled from Florence through Tuscany, Umbria and Marche, while wearing the racing jersey emblazoned with his name. Such was his fame that the Fascist police and German troops dared not detain him. Not only did he never speak of his heroism, it was only 65 years after the war’s end that the world found out about his bold, yet selfless actions.

Vincent Marmorale, Italy’s Holocaust Foundation President said of the Italian people, “As most of Europe was engulfed in genocide, approximately 80 percent of Italy’s Jews survived. Most of these heroes never spoke of their courageous deeds or sought rewards.” 

Il Circolo was proud to have hosted this event attended by a capacity crowd and encourages everyone to view this informative documentary.