the sport of cycling’s most important competition recently lost nine years of
history to doping scandals, you would think they would look celebrate a genuine
hero from their past, but Italian champion Gino Bartali’s clandestine efforts
to save Italian Jewry remain largely unsung. He was not alone in his secret
defiance. Eighty percent of Jews in wartime Italy survived thanks to Bartli and
a host of like-minded Italians. Oren Jacoby profiles many of Italy’s righteous
and the grown survivors they helped save in My
Italian Secret (trailer
which opens this Friday in New York.
had been firmly entrenched in power since the 1920s, but the Holocaust was slow
in reaching Italy. Yes, anti-Semitic laws were passed, but anti-Semitism never
really caught on as an ideology. It was not until the German occupation that
deportations started in earnest. Of course, there were more than enough
Fascists willing to collaborate, but not Bartali.
Fascists did there level best to coop Bartali as a symbol of Italian physical supremacy,
but the cyclist refused to participate in their propaganda. Fortunately, his standing
as Italy’s preeminent sportsman granted him certain liberties, such as an
excuse for long distance bike runs. Soon, Bartali was shuttling counterfeited
documents provided by the Catholic Church to Jews in hiding. Bartali further
risked his neck by sheltering a Jewish family in his own home.
it is quite eye-opening to see the bourgeoisie or even privileged status of so
many of the Italian Righteous, given the carefully romanticized proletariat
image of the resistance. Granted, Bartali came from rugged smallholding farm
stock, but Marchesa Gallo did not. Yet, she sheltered numerous Jewish families
in her grand palazzo. Likewise, Dr. Giovanni Borromeo was a man of considerable
position, who ran tremendous risks operating his special “K” wing, where he hid
Jewish fugitives supposedly infected with the nonexistent “K” disease. Jacoby
also makes it crystal clear how deeply involved the Catholic Church was in
rescue efforts. In fact, it was the Archbishop of Florence who recruited
Bartali in the first place.
uses the tried and true methods of documentary filmmaking, to good effect. He
sparingly employs recreations, but incorporates plenty of archival photos and
video. However, the most dramatic sequences by far capture the heartfelt
meetings between the survivors (now of advanced years) and the children of
their protectors. The Hot Club soundtrack selections are also quite pleasant.
Frankly, it is strange more of these incidents have
not been more widely reported, especially given Italy’s remarkable high Jewish survival
rate. However, Bartali was characteristically modest about his actions.
Fortunately, he now has Oscar nominated actor Robert Loggia to literally speak
for him. Jaded viewers might think they more or less know the trajectory of its
collected stories and perhaps they do, but the details are unusually rich. Secret also helps counteract the
ideologically-driven smearing of the WWII-era Church and Pope Pius XII, complimenting
recent scholarship, like Rabbi David Dalin’s The Myth of Hitler’s Pope. Recommended for general audiences and
especially students, My Italian Secret opens
this Friday (3/23) in New York at the Cinema Village.
Labels: Documentary, Gino Bartali, Holocaust