What could be more meaningful than German and Israeli teammates visiting Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem? Emotions were strong as Israel Start-Up Nation team riders and staff viewed the exhibits and pictures concerning the six million Jews killed during World War II.
The visit also had a strong connection to cycling. On the hill leading up to the Center lies the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations – with the Righteous being non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
“When a Righteous Among the Nations did this, he knew that his own life and his family’s life were also in danger, it’s all about choosing. Choosing between the good and the evil,” explained the guide. “The names you see on these walls choose good in a time of evil.
“And for us, the Jewish nation, to know that these people were able to help us keep on going, were able to give us the hope that the world was not only a dark and ugly place but there was good among the people who were watching what was going on.”
“Your visit to the museum will give you something that I hope you will take with you the rest of your lives. You will get souvenirs, not necessarily in the shops but inside, in your hearts, where we will remember – remember the choice people took between good and evil ,and we will remember the six million whose voices were silenced.”
One of the more than 26,000 people so honored is a successful but humble Italian cyclist. Gino Bartali won the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia (twice) in the 1930s and again after the War in the late 1940s.
But it is what he did in between those wins that has made him Righteous.
“He was against the fascist regime of Italy that collaborated with Nazi Germany, with Hitler,” explained Ron Baron, co-founder and co-owner of the team. “And he knew that if he would do it in a way that someone would find out, he would immediately be executed and still he took a lot of risks and he saved the lives of many many Jews.
Bartali, under the guise of training, sought out Jews hidden in Italy. “He hid their documents in the frame of his bike and he cycled hundreds of kilometers back to Assisi and there they faked their documents and they hid those Jews in the Franciscan church in Assisi.”
He is also said to have saved the lives of a Jewish family by hiding them in the cellar of his own home.
“And thanks to the work of Gino Bartali, who was not Jewish, with no affiliation to the Jewish people, but was a good person and he showed us the duty to save humanity.”
Today, Bartali is honored with his name on the wall of the Righteous. Our Davide Cimolai pointed out his name, proudly but reflectively.
The walk leading up the Center through the sculpture garden gives a clue of what is to come. One simple but dramatic piece is a German train boxcar posed on the end of a track, with the simple title “Cattle Car”.
The Center is laid out to track the history of the Holocaust, from the earliest Nazi propaganda against the Jews up through the liberation of the concentration camps. Photos and relics bring the story to life. One of the most moving is a collection of hundreds of shoes which the Jews had to remove before they entered the “showers” at the camp – “showers” from which they would not come out of alive.
The Center is a somber and sobering experience for people of all religions, nationalities and ages, whether they are familiar with this history or not. It was a chance for the different nationalities within the team to reflect and to bond with one another, and for everyone to swear to him or herself that they would do all they could to help prevent it from ever happening again.