Giovanni Bloisi, a wiry 62-year-old from Varano Borghi, Italy, had a broad grin on his face as he cycled up to the Shoah Memorial in Milan, where he was about to bed down for the night.
On March 21, Bloisi completed the first day of a 2,360km bike ride to raise awareness of the Holocaust in Italy.
The trip, which will take him via places of Jewish historical significance, will end at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. He will cycle to Greece and take a ferry from there to Israel.
Milan’s Shoah Memorial is situated underneath the city’s central station. From here over 2,000 Jews and political prisoners were dispatched to their deaths via the infamous Platform 21.
As trains rumbled nosily overhead, Bloisi spread out his sleeping bag close to cattle trucks like the ones that transported the victims to their deaths.
A life-long left-wing activist, Bloisi is focusing on the extraordinary tale of 800 Jewish children who survived the Holocaust. From 1945-48, the children, who had been gathered up by the Jewish Brigade in Eastern Europe, were sent to the mountain village of Selvino, 70km north east of Milan. Here they were cared for in a holiday camp that had been built for the children of Italy’s fascist elite. From there, they were secretly dispatched by boat to Palestine.
The home in Selvino was part of a post-war operation aimed at helping Holocaust survivors who poured into Italy after the war. Those behind the organisation included Milan’s Jewish community, Italian Partisans and representatives of the Haganah.
“When I discovered the story of the children of Selvino, my heart went out to them. These were the most vulnerable people in the world and their story has been almost forgotten,” said Bloisi, who will give talks to students throughout his trip.