Isabella Rosselini, the daughter of Ingrid Bergman, is the narrator of this fascinating tale of life in Italy during World War II. Actor Robert Loggia provides his voice as the voice of Gino Bartali, one of the Forgotten Heroes in this story.
Cyclist Gino Bartali - Wikimedia
Cyclist Gino Bartali
Cyclist Gino Bartali is legendary in Italy. He won the Tour de France in 1938 and 1948, as well as the Giro d’Italia (Italy’s version of the Tour de France) three times. He is revered in his homeland for much more, however. During the Holocaust, more than 80% of Jewish people who lived in Italy survived the slaughter. Italy had always been a safe haven for Jews. Gino Bartali was a big part of that story. In 1943, at the request of the Archbishop of Florence, Bartali set off on his bike each day wearing his bike uniform as though he were in training. He rode 40,000 km. in one year. He was risking his life because he was carrying documents in his bike frame to give to the Bishop of Assisi. The Bishop was protecting Jews. Bartali brought him ID cards with false names, so that the Jews could make their way to the south. Few of the people he helped knew who he was or what he had done to save their lives by risking his own life. What he was doing remained a secret. His activity was never revealed while he was still alive. He was one of many in a Florence network who fought against the Fascists and the Nazis, but never asked for recognition for their brave deeds.
Mussolini ruled Italy and was responsible for leading his country into war. Gino Bartali faced a terrible moral choice. He did not agree with the Fascist philosophy. The Italian Fascists took the credit for his bicycling feats. They called him their Arian champion. He was accused of a lack of patriotism when he defied the Fascists. His father had taught him “You must do good, but don’t talk about it.”
The film features other survivors of that horrific time. Some were Italians who aided the Jewish people; some were the Jewish survivors who were grateful for the kind treatment they received during those perilous years.
Map of Italy - Wikimedia
Dr. Giovanni Borromeo
Dr. Giovanni Borromeo was an Italian surgeon who helped hundreds of Jews at a Catholic Hospital in Rome. When the Germans occupied the city, they began to seek out Jews for extermination. Dr. Borromeo set aside one of the wards to hide Jews. He claimed to the Germans that the patients in that particular ward had a contagious disease that was incurable, so the Nazi soldiers were too frightened to enter that area. In the film, his son Andrea Borromeo showed a document awarded to his father. It had the Seal of the Vatican and was signed by Cardinal Montini, the Vatican Secretary of State, who eventually became Pope Paul VI.
Gaia Servadio is an historian and novelist whose father was a prominent chemist in Padua before the war. She is now married to an Englishman. After the racial laws were passed in 1938, life was difficult. Jews were forbidden to have servants, but Gaia’s nanny stayed on. Her boyfriend warned the family that they needed to escape or they would go to Auschwitz. Her family obtained false IDs and fled, and were able to find shelter in the palace of Marchesa Gallo. When the Germans came to the palace, Gaia’s father posed as the butler and the others were accepted as the butler’s family. They had to disappear after a while when things got worse. The family was separated. Gaia and her mother and sister left on one bicycle. Their father had left earlier. He later found his family. Gaia returned recently to the Palace because she wanted to thank the Marchesa for her kindness, but she had already died. She spoke to the Marchesa’s grandson, and told him how extraordinary his grandmother was. She had risked her life by hiding Gaia’s family.
Robert Loggia - The Voice of Gino Bartali - Wikimedia
Charlotte Hauptman related that her mother had witnessed Kristallnacht and decided that they had to leave Germany. They lived in Milan for over two years. Charlotte felt Italian at that time. Her mother was Catholic and her father was a Jew. Adolf Hitler visited Rome in 1938 and issued a new racial policy for the protection of the race. Mixed marriages were forbidden. The police were given a list of all Jewish citizens. They were confined in a small town near Venice where they lived with Fascist families. They had to leave; otherwise they would be shipped to an extermination camp. They hid in the village of Secchiano in the woods. There were airplanes overhead dropping leaflets warning people not to hide the Jews. Charlotte returned there with her grandson to show him the places where she lived.
Ursula Korn Selig
Ursula Korn Selig was a child during the new racial policy. She remembered that they had to go four times a day to the police station. Other than that, they lived like Italians. When the Germans starting routing the Jews, they had to run away. Monsignor Schivo moved her father to a dormitory across from the seminary. Ursula and her mother went to a convent. Monsignor Schivo saved many, many people even though it was dangerous to save a Jew. People were not afraid to save the Jews; they were human beings.
Piero Terracina and his family were taken care of in Rome by their neighbors even though it was dangerous to hide Jews. It was Passover in 1944. Piero’s sister was walking home when a man tried to pick her up. She said “Leave me alone.” Later that day, two SS agents came to their door. Piero’s sister said one of them was the man who had approached her. There was a reward for turning in Jews. That man denounced them for 5000 lira. They were sent to Auschwitz. His whole family were murdered. Only Piero returned from the death camp.
Father Costa operated a monastery which was used as a refuge for those fleeing the Nazis. Jews were in hiding everywhere. Gino Bartali came there many times on his mission, and left them his autograph. One day an SS soldier came to deliver a package, and twenty soldiers burst in. The monks were at prayer. They were told “Put up your hands.” All of them were seized and dragged. Out of 150 people, the SS interrogated, tortured, and murdered 49 of them. More than 200 Jews escaped because of Father Costa.
Narrator Isabella Rosselini - Wikimedia
Isabella Rosselini related that 26 convents and monasteries became part of the network of hiding places for hundreds of refugees. The nuns surely knew that they were Jewish. When the Nazis came to the convent, they asked the children to say the Catholic prayers. One of the nuns secretly mouthed the words so the children would say the right words. The Germans never entered the cloister. The Abbess said many years later that she hoped God would forgive her for the lies she had to tell the Nazis to save the people.
I am eternally grateful that we live in a country where such things never happen. I remember World War II very well and we always felt safe and never had to suffer the hardships that these people living in Italy had to undergo. Seeing this film gave me a new outlook on the sufferings that others must endure. It is eye-opening.
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