The Rebbe of Modzitz, Rabbi Shaul Yedidya Elazar, had Chassidim throughout the major towns and cities of Poland. One of these was Reb Azriel David Fastag, who was noted for his exceptional voice throughout Warsaw. Many came to the shul where Reb Azriel David and his brothers, who were also blessed with lovely voices, would pray on the High Holy Days. Reb Azriel David would lead the prayers, while his brothers accompanied him as a choir. His crisp, clear and moving voice had a profound effect on all who heard him.
Reb Azriel David lived simply, earning his livelihood from a small clothing store, but his happiness and fulfillment came from another source — the world of Chassidic music. His moving tunes made their way to Otvoczk (a suburb of Warsaw), where his Rebbe, Rabbi Shaul Yedidya Elazar appreciated them immensely. The day a new niggun (melody) by Reb Azriel David arrived was a festive day for for the Rebbe.
Dark clouds began to cover the skies of Europe — the clouds of Nazism. In spite of the terrible decrees, the yellow patch and the ghettoes, most Jews could not fathom what was about to befall them. Only a few managed to escape the clutches of the Nazi occupation to safe havens. One of them was the Modzitzer Rebbe, Rebbe Shaul Yedidya Elazar, whose Chassidim made a tremendous effort to save him. As the Nazis entered Poland, the Chassidim smuggled him out of Poland to Vilna, in Lithuania, and from there he made his way across Russia to Shanghai, China, eventually arriving in America in 1940.
Meanwhile in Poland tens of thousands of Jews were being shipped off daily to their death in cattle cars that were part of the railway system. Roused from their warm beds in Warsaw in the middle of the night, husbands were separated from their wives, children wrested from the arms of their parents. The elderly were often shot on the spot, in front of their loved ones. Then the Jews were gathered and sent off in those trains to a place where their existence would no longer trouble the Nazis — to Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek.
Inside the crowded cars, over the clatter of the cattle cars' wheels, rose the sounds of people gasping, sighing, weeping and dying. One could hear the stifled cries of children crushed together. But in one such car, headed toward the infamous death camp Treblinka, the sound of singing could be heard.
It seems that an elderly Jew, wrapped up in his ragged clothing, his face white as snow, had made his way over to his neighbor on the death train, begging him to remind him the tune of Ma'areh Kohen sung by Modzitzer Rebbe during the Yom Kippur service.
"Now? Now, what you want to hear is niggunim?" answered the other, with a hard look at the Chassid, thinking that maybe all the suffering had caused him to lose his mind.
But this Modzitzer Chassid, Reb Azriel David Fastag, was no longer paying attention to his friend, or to anyone else on the train. In his mind, he was at the prayer stand next to his Rebbe on Yom Kippur, and it is he who was leading the prayer before the Rebbe and all the Chassidim.
Suddenly, there appeared before his eyes the words of the twelfth of the Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith: Ani ma'amin b'emuna sheleima, b'viat hamoshiach; v'af al pi she'yismamaya, im kol zeh, achakeh lo b'chol yom she'yavo — "I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Moshiach; and even though he may tarry, nevertheless, I wait each day for his coming." Closing his eyes, he meditated on these words and thought, "Just now, when everything seems lost, is a Jew's faith put to the test."