Tears as cy­clist com­pletes Shoah education tour

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY ROSIE WHITE­HOUSE

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

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