Tears as cyclist completes Shoah education tour
GIOVANNI BLOISI, a wiry 62-year-old, cycled into Yad Vashem on Monday. He had just completed an epic 1,500-mile bike ride to raise awareness of the Holocaust in Italy.
The trip took him from his home town of Varano Borghi, on the Italian side of the border with Switzerland, to the port of Brindisi in the heel of the Italian boot. From there he took a ferry to Greece, which he cycled across, before travelling by boat to Israel.
Since setting off a month ago, the intrepid Mr Bloisi has visited more than 20 Italian towns associated with the Holocaust, among them Alfonsine in Emiglia Romagna.
There in 1945 during the Battle of Senio, the British Army’s Jewish Brigade smashed through the German lines. In the town’s Commonwealth War Graves cemetery, row upon row of the neat headstones are marked with the Star of David.
“It was a beautiful and very emotional journey,” says Mr Bloisi. “I was given such a welcome everywhere I went.”
Mr Bloisi has been focusing on the extraordinary and almost unknown tale of 800 Jewish children who survived the Holocaust and who between 1945 and 1948 were gathered up by the Jewish Bri- gade in eastern Europe. They were sent to Selvino, a mountain village 40 miles north-east of Milan where they were cared for in a holiday camp once used by the children of Italy’s Fascist elite. From there, they were secretly dispatched by boat to Palestine.
As he peddled across Italy, Mr Bloisi spoke to school students. He always brought his bicycle into the classroom. “The bike speaks to people. It engages them and they listen,” he explains.
In Selvino, where the story of the children had, until recently, been completely forgotten, he spoke to the pupils alongside the mayor.
Each class he spoke to presented him with a plastic bracelet to take to Israel as a token of remembrance. Mr Bloisi was inspired to make the trip when he met Shoah survivor Avraham Aviel and his late wife Ayala Lieberman. They returned to Selvino for the first time two years ago. The couple met at the orphanage there and were married for over 50 years. When the two men met in Tel Aviv, says Mr Bloisi, “it was very emotional on both sides. He cried and said he never believed that I would actually make it to Israel by bike, but I did”. Mr Aviel was born in Dugalishok, now in Belarus, in 1929 and lost his entire family in the Holocaust. The trip to Israel was organised by Tami Sharon, whose mother arrived in Selvino as a 14-year-old orphan. Ms Sharon explains: “Giovanni is not Jewish and he does all this for us. He is like an ambassador spreading the story of Selvino and the help the Italians gave to the Jewish people.”
Mr Bloisi on his bike