From Florence to Assisi to Rome. Through Tuscany, Umbria, and Marche. Gino Bartali, the Italian cycling legend and two-time winner of the Tour de France, zigzagged his way through Italy by bike in an effort to save Jews in Italy during World War II.
For the majority of us who are not cycling enthusiasts, Bartali’s heroic story is as unfamiliar as his biking feats. For much of his life the cycling champion hid his wartime exploits even from his own children in the same carefully guarded manner he hid counterfeit identity documents for Jews in the frame and seat of his bicycle.
A cycling buff and family friend, Jonathan Freedman, told me about how he is working to change that. In an effort to get the story out, Freedman formed Team Gino Bartali and rode in last week’s Chai Lifeline’s Bike4Chai to honor Bartali’s heroism. Freedman himself only discovered Bartali’s story after stumbling upon a little-known documentary circuiting the Jewish film festivals.
“My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes” is a documentary written, produced, and directed by Oscar nominee Oren Jacoby. It debuted in October 2014 at the Hamptons International Film Festival and aired in June at the Simon Weisenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance. The documentary tells how Bartali hid a Jewish family in his cellar and traveled throughout Italy on his bicycle delivering false documents for hidden Jews under the pretense of training for competitions.
As mentioned, Bartali never spoke of his activities, which he conducted under the threat of death to himself and his family, until late in life. His son Andrea, when finally made aware of his father’s acts of bravery, was told by Bartali, “One does these things and then that’s that.”
In 2013 Bartali was posthumously recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.
Bartali the hero stands in sharp contrast to would-be heroes of today who have an opportunity to pedal papers of a different deliverance. It is ironic that Bartali’s story is being publicized at a time when Jews are once again confronted with very real threats. There are those who are in a position to change the course of Jewish history. The question is whether they too will become champions.
With the Iran nuclear deal facing one last hurdle in Congress, much depends on the decisions of some of 28 Jewish members of the House and Senate. Unfortunately, with their overarching fealty to President Obama and the Democratic Party, many Jewish politicians supported the deal with knee jerk alacrity at the very outset, including Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Representatives Jan Schakowsky, Sander Levin and Adam Schiff.
Among Jewish congressmen with large Jewish constituencies, such as those in New York and Florida, the battle still continues only because of the outcry from Jewish voters. Some of these politicians, usually very quick to voice their opinions, are disturbingly silent when they hear cries of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”
None, however, came under the intense pressure and scrutiny experienced by Senator Charles Schumer of New York, poised to become the next Democratic leader in the Senate. After dissembling for weeks, Schumer finally succumbed to the overwhelming pressure of thousands of calls flooding his offices, in addition to forceful lobbying by AIPAC and other groups, and declared his opposition to the deal.
Schumer’s decision, while welcome, comes as no surprise considering the irreversible mark of Cain a vote in favor of the deal would have left on his political career. The threat of severely jeopardizing his upcoming reelection bid in 2016 supplanted any antagonism he now incurs with Obama and Democrat Party elders. It became abundantly clear that self-serving behavior ultimately becomes self-defeating.