Tour de France champ saved Jews in WWII

The Israeli Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, has honoured an Italian cyclist who risked his life to save Jews during the Second World War.

Tour de France champ saved Jews in WWII
Gino Bartali won the Tour de France twice. Photo: Yad Vashem

Gino Bartali, twice winner of Tour de France and three times champion of the Giro d’Italia, was given the honour of Righteous Among the Nations on Monday. The Yad Vashem list celebrates courageous people who risked their lives to help Jewish people during the Holocaust.

Bartali, who died in 2000 at the age of 85, aided the resistance by using his cycling prowess in wartime Italy.

“He collaborated with the underground by putting false papers inside his bicycle seat and cycling between cities,” Iael Nidam-Orvieto, director of the Yad Vashem International Institute for Holocaust Research, told The Local.

“The underground network was set up by Jewish people and the chief rabbi of Florence, with help from the clergy. It was a beautiful collaboration between Jews and non-Jews."

As the resistance movement involved a number of people, it is unknown exactly how many people Bartali saved. His role in the movement has had to be pieced together without his input, as the cyclist refused to be interviewed about his experience.

“Bartali was an extremely humble person and he believed these rescue activities did not deserve any remembrance or documentation,” Nidam-Orvieto said.

Each person honoured by Yad Vashem museum, including more than 500 Italians, stands out for the extraordinary lengths they went to in order to help people during the Second World War.

“The Righteous were a very small number of people compared to the majority of society that didn’t do anything. Each case is an amazing example of solidarity,” Nidam-Orvieto added.

After the war Bartali made an impressive return to competitive cycling and scooped the 1946 Giro d’Italia title and the Tour de France in 1948. During the interwar era, he won the Italian tour in 1936 and 1937, followed by the Tour de France in 1938. 

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Italian king’s heir apologises for monarchy’s Holocaust role

A descendant of Italy's wartime King Victor Emmanuel III has apologised to the country's Jewish community for his ancestor's role in dictator Mussolini's racial laws and the Holocaust.

Italian king's heir apologises for monarchy's Holocaust role
An archival picture of the Italian royal family in 1938 . Photo: AFP

“I condemn the 1938 racial laws, all of whose weight I still feel on my shoulders to this day, and with me the whole royal house,” 48-year-old Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy said of his great-grandfather.

Victor Emmanuel III had put his signature to an “unacceptable document”, he added in a letter posted to Facebook, “officially apologising” in the name of his family.

Almost 8,000 Italian Jews were deported from the country and murdered in Nazi extermination camps, most of them in Auschwitz.

Giving a TV interview alongside the letter, Emanuele Filiberto also vaunted his family's positive role in Italian unification and granting of equal rights to Jews from 1848.

Several Italian royals were themselves deported to Nazi concentration camps, he recalled.

After the war, Victor Emmanuel III abdicated in May 1946 and died the following year in Egypt.

His son Humbert II reigned for only a month before leaving for Switzerland when Italians opted for a republican constitution in a referendum.

Parliament only ended a constitutional ban on the House of Savoy's male heirs returning to Italy in 2002, after Emanuele Filiberto and his father Vittorio Emanuele swore loyalty to the republic.

The two men gave up on compensation claims demanding 260 million euros for their family's exile and the return of the royal family's confiscated property after a public outcry.

Emanuele Filiberto is married to French actress Clotilde Courau.