Azriel David Fastag was a Modzitzer hasid known for his beautiful voice, a chazzan and composer of Hasidic tunes before World War Two. Although the Modzitzer Rebbe had managed to escape Poland before the Holocaust, arriving in New York in 1940, Azriel David Fastag was not so lucky. In 1942 he was put on a train to Treblinka, along with hundreds of other Jews.
While on the train he composed a melody for the words of the twelfth “Ani Maamin”: אֲנִי מַאֲמִין בֶאֱמוּנָה שְלֵמָה בְבִיאַת הַמָשִיחַ, וְאַף עַל פִי שֶיִתְמַהְמֵהַ עִם כָל זֶה אֲחַכֶה לּוֹ בְכָל יוֹם שֶיָבוֹא – “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless, I wait each day for him to arrive.”
Azriel David began singing the song, at first quietly, and eventually with his full voice. Soon everyone on the train was singing the moving, haunting melody together with him, as they were transformed from human wreckage into beacons of hope and faith. After some time had passed, and they had sung the melody many times, Azriel David asked for silence and announced that he would give half of his heavenly reward to anyone who would deliver this new melody to his revered mentor, the Modzitzer Rebbe, in New York.
The idea seemed fanciful and far-fetched. How would any of them – prisoners on a locked train to a death camp – manage to get Ani Mamin to New York? Nevertheless, although the train was locked from the outside, two young boys still managed to escape off the train, through a gap in the roof of one of the carriages. One was killed falling from the train, but the other one ultimately made it to New York, where he delivered the melody to the Modzitzer Rebbe. The rebbe was deeply moved by the melody and the story of its composition, and told his followers: “With this tune they went to the gas chambers; with this tune we will march to greet Moshiach.”