Jewish soldier, wounded in war, memorializes young Holocaust hero by playing his violin

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Sgt. Mordechai Shenvald, 34, of Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF), was one of the performers at a Jerusalem Theatre concert on July 7, 2024 — and played the “Theme from Schindler’s List” on the restored violin of a boy who was killed in the Holocaust, accompanied by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.

The moving performance took place in Israel at The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, Yad Vashem, which recently hosted two days of inaugural events for The Moshal Shoah Legacy Campus and the David and Fela Shapell Family Collections Center.

Yad Vashem’s chair, Dani Dayan, who was present at the event, told Fox News Digital, “Music has the power to transcend suffering, offering hope and dignity to individuals even in the darkest of times.”

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He added, “We are committed to preserving the stories and memories of the victims of the Holocaust and its survivors so that future generations will understand the profound impact of the Holocaust.”

The center houses the world’s most extensive collection of Holocaust documents, artwork and photographs. 

Also present at the center’s opening were Isaac Herzog, president of Israel, and his wife, Michal Herzog, plus Yad Vashem council chair and Holocaust survivor Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.

Sgt. Shenvald told Fox News Digital that at 8:07 a.m. on Oct. 7, 2023, he was called up for war — shortly after members of Hamas, in the terror attack on southern Israel, killed some 1,200 people and kidnapped 251 others, according to multiple sources.

Shenvald said he was part of Unit 401, a leading unit that was the first to go into Gaza. After defending kibbutzim that had been violently attacked, he fought in Gaza for several weeks, he said.

Upon regaining consciousness, Shenvald remembered saying to himself, “Thank God I’m alive.” 

On Nov. 2, 2023, he described what happened while he was fixing his tank’s engine. Bullets struck the tank, causing an explosion — the impact of which caused Shenvald to fly up in the air about five meters, he said. 

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“I felt like Superman,” he said. 

In the blast, he suffered a concussion. Upon regaining consciousness, he remembered saying to himself, “Thank God I’m alive.” 

His fellow soldiers took him to the nearest hospital, Barzilai Medical Center in Israel, 12 miles from Gaza.

Eight surgeries and counting

Shenvald relayed how doctors told him it was a miracle he survived. He suffered 11 broken ribs, which caused his lungs to explode (phemothorax). He also broke his right hip and injured his back, he said. 

Since then, he has undergone some eight surgeries — and estimated that it will take another year or more for him to make a complete recovery.

Sgt. Mordechai Shenvald playing violin

Shenvald described himself as religious, and said, “I believe that God has a plan… I pray every day. I practice my brain, I practice my spirit, to change my behavior in order to understand how I can make the best [of] this situation — for the world, how to make it better.”

He is from a musical family, he said. His mother is a pianist and his father, a violinist — and they all play together on the holidays and Shabbat. 

He described having a special kinship with his “fun uncle,” Meil, who was also a violinist and soldier. Shenvald said his uncle was killed in 1995 while stationed in Gaza, just a few minutes away from where he himself was injured in Nov. 2023.

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Shenvald told of how he started playing the violin at age six, after hearing a song he loved at his uncle’s memorial service a year after he died. 

When he was 26, his grandfather gave him his uncle’s violin — which he still plays to this day, he said.

Playing the violin has helped him heal emotionally, he said, even though this type of exertion hurts him. 

“I believe that God has a plan … I pray every day.”

“Physically, it’s painful, but because of the music, it took me to another place,” he said. 

“They gave me ketamine and a lot of heavy stuff, but it didn’t help me like the music. When I played, I forgot the pain, I forgot everything.” He said that music “can lift you up.”

A video that appears online shows Shenvald playing his violin in a hospital gown, visibly moved, with people gathered around him singing along. Shenvald has also started playing the saxophone since his injuries, he said, because he said he wanted to find a creative way to practice his breathing.

Since the end of February, Shenvald said he has performed in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, New Jersey and Miami. The July 7 performance was his third such event at Yad Vashem, including one in which he described feeling honored to play in front of Herzog, the president of Israel, on April 17, 2024.

Mordechai with President Herzog and wife Michal & Dani Dayan

Simmy Allen, head of international media at Yad Vashem, told Fox News Digital that Yad Vashem contacted Mordechai Shenvald about a special violin they wanted him to play on July 7 — a violin owned by Mordechai “Motale” Shlain, a young partisan who fought against the Nazis. 

While sharing the same first name, both men have also been gifted violin players. 

In addition, Allen said, “both individuals are heroes in their own right, fighting to protect the Jewish people from peril.” 

‘Live on forever’

On the evening of the performance, Allen said that Mordechai Shenvald would be filling out a Page of Testimony at Yad Vashem with Mordechai “Motale” Shlain’s life story, “so that his name and his memory will live on forever.”

Shenvald said that while practicing for the show, he was amazed to see that Shlain’s violin was stamped with the date 1895. 

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“It’s very special to hold something from the Holocaust or from years ago,” he said. “Each violin [has] a soul… You actually feel the person.” 

He said the sound of Shlain’s violin was “very warm, lovely, powerful and young.” 

Motale's violin Yad Vashem

A video made by Yad Vashem tells of how Shlain was born to parents who were poor farmers in Krasnowka, Poland, and adopted by an established Jewish family who gifted him a violin and taught him how to play. 

In 1941, when Shlain was 11 years old, the German army invaded — and Shlain saw Nazis kill his family from the attic where he was hiding. 

Shlain saw Nazis kill his family from the attic where he was hiding. 

Shlain fled to a forest with his violin and joined a band of Jewish partisans, according to The Times of Israel.  

Seffi Hanegbi told Fox News Digital how his grandfather, Moshe Gildenman, known as “Uncle Misha,” and his father, Simcha, were part of a partisan unit that Shlain joined — which had both Jewish and Christian fighters. 

Hanegbi said that his father, Simcha, was good friends with Shlain, fighting alongside him, gathering intelligence information and playing music with him.

Mordechai 2023 Yad Vashem

Hanegbi described Shlain as “a very talented child. He was really a fantastic player.”

Did not know he was Jewish 

When Shlain was 13 years old, he started playing folk songs on his violin outside a Ukranian church, reported aish.com. He attracted a crowd of people, including a Nazi officer — who asked him to perform at a restaurant for his fellow soldiers. 

They did not know that he was Jewish. 

The restaurant offered him a job, which he took as an opportunity to spy on the Nazis. 

When over 200 senior Nazi officers were eating at the restaurant, Shlain went down to the cellar and lit a bomb wick.

Shlain noticed deep cracks in the restaurant’s cellar, and made a plan with Hanegbi’s grandfather, “Uncle Misha,” the unit’s commander, to smuggle dynamite in his violin case that he would fill into the cracks. 

By the time he’d made six of these “death-defying trips,” Shlain had smuggled in nearly 40 pounds of explosives, noted aish.com. 

Sgt. Mordechai Shenvald playing violin

One night, when over 200 senior Nazi officers were eating at the restaurant, Shlain went down to the cellar and lit a bomb wick.

Henegbi said that his grandfather taught Shlain how to make sure the TNT would explode — and he was waiting for him outside when the restaurant blew up. 

Henegbi told Fox News Digital, “My father waved to him, he came on his horse and they left the place. Nothing happened – not to my father, not to Motale,” he said.

Shlain was just 14 when he was killed in a Nazi ambush in 1944, according to multiple sources.

Henegbi said Shlain died “a heroic death” because he lost his life trying to protect the partisan group from Nazi forces.

Henegbi’s father took great care of Shlain’s violin as a way of keeping his friend close to him, said Yad Vashem.

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In early 2000, Henegbi donated this precious violin to Yad Vashem’s Holocaust History Museum. 

The condition of the donation was that it would “continue to play all over the world … to play the spirit of Motale.”

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