ROME, JULY 25, 2003 (Zenit.org).- After concluding the 100th Tour de France, Italy will remember disclaced Carmelite Gino Bartali, one-time winner of the race and protector of the lives of hundred of Jews during the Nazi persecution.
Italian Radio and Television (RAI) is preparing a film to be released in 2004 showing Bartali’s triumphs, as well as his Christian commitment in the service of the persecuted.
According to some estimates, the network of Jew Giorgio Nissim — who counted on the collaboration of Gino Bartali, the Oblate priests of the city of Lucca, the archbishop of Genoa, Franciscan friars, cloistered nuns, and Catholic politicians — helped to save 800 Jews from extermination.
Bartali would make trips between Florence and Rome, carrying valuable false documents hidden in the tube of his bicycle.
Then a hero in Italy, as he had won the Tour de France in 1938, and the Giro d’Italia three times (1936, 1937), Bartali was an active member of Catholic Action, wore the scapular of the Virgin Mary, and was a Tertiary of the Order of Discalced Carmelites.
“His role was to take photos and paper to clandestine printing presses to produce the false documents. He was also a guide to indicate the less known roads to arrive at central areas of Italy without being seen,” his son, Andrea, explained.
“When the police stopped him, he said he was training. In fact, the fascists of the area had their doubts, but did not dare arrest him, as they ran the risk of causing a popular rising,” Andrea said.
The municipal council of Florence has established a “Garden of the Righteous of the World,” trees that commemorate the men who dedicated themselves to save lives. According to http://www.shalom.it, the first one was planted in honor of Gino Bartali.
Tuscany, the region where Florence is located, also conferred its highest distinction of “Gonfalone d’Argento” on Giorgio Nissim, the coordinator of the network in which Bartali collaborated to save some 800 Jews from Nazi deportation between 1943 and 1944.
In 1999, the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem, paid homage for this same reason to Father Arturo Paoli and the Oblate Priests of the city of Lucca, without whom Nissim would not have been able to create his network of assistance. At present, Father Paoli who is over 90 years old, is a missionary in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil.