The Brave Cyclist: The True Sto­ry of a Holo­caust Hero

Amalia Hoff­man, Chiara Fedele (illus.)

  • Review
By – August 5, 2019

Accounts of Gen­tile resisters who chose to risk their lives to save Jews dur­ing the Holo­caust con­tin­ue to hold read­ers’ spell­bound. What made these indi­vid­u­als act this way amidst the cli­mate of accep­tance of Nazi cru­el­ties while oth­ers active­ly abet­ted the destruc­tion of their once-friends and neigh­bors? Amalia Hoff­man and Chiara Fedele’s pic­ture book, The Brave Cyclist: The True Sto­ry of a Holo­caust Hero, tells the thrilling sto­ry of Gino Bar­tali — Ital­ian cyclist and win­ner of the Tour de France race, who used his ath­let­ic skills and his deeply ingrained moral code to help res­cue Jews in his native Tuscany.

Bar­tali was a deeply reli­gious and mod­est man; his deeds dur­ing WWII were not wide­ly known until years after­wards. When he died in 2000, his New York Times obit­u­ary omit­ted any men­tion of efforts on behalf of Italy’s Jews. Hoff­man begins her book with a por­trait of the hero as an awk­ward boy obsessed with bicy­cles, who grad­u­al­ly — through per­sis­tence and deter­mi­na­tion — became a cham­pi­on at com­pet­i­tive cycling. Young read­ers will iden­ti­fy with Bartali’s refusal to give up, while learn­ing that he began each day with twen­ty-four exer­cis­es and ate a dozen raw eggs dur­ing the course of one chal­leng­ing race. The text is quite detailed, with Fedele’s dra­mat­ic paint­ings com­ple­ment­ing Hoffman’s nar­ra­tive. People’s facial expres­sions con­vey deep emo­tion, whether of a Jew­ish fam­i­ly ter­ror­ized by Mussolini’s sol­diers, or the glee on Gino’s face as his father agrees to allow him to pur­sue his dream. Scenes of Italy’s impos­ing geog­ra­phy and land­marks, from the Pyre­nees Moun­tains to Florence’s Bargel­lo Palace, are breathtaking.

Only in the sec­ond half of the book, after Hoff­man and Fedele have devel­oped Bartali’s char­ac­ter, do they turn to his moral deci­sions. When he is approached by Car­di­nal Elia Dal­la Cos­ta with a request to deliv­er false doc­u­ments to enable Jews to escape, Bar­tali agrees. He will con­tin­ue to ride his bicy­cle as swift­ly as pos­si­ble, not to beat his com­peti­tors, but to save lives. Hoff­man frames Bartali’s sto­ry as one of log­i­cal pro­gres­sions rather than super­hu­man brav­ery. The book con­cludes with Bartali’s sec­ond Tour de France tri­umph in 1948. In 2013, he was rec­og­nized as Right­eous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

The Brave Cyclist includes an After­word” with fur­ther infor­ma­tion, and a Select Bib­li­og­ra­phy.” The book is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed for chil­dren as well as for care­givers and edu­ca­tors look­ing for an unusu­al approach to hero­ism dur­ing the Holocaust.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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