Speed Reads

It wasn't all bad

Holocaust survivor, 88, receives high school diploma

With multiple generations of her family looking on, Esther Begam, 88, collected her high school diploma, decades after she was denied an education by the Nazis.

Begam grew up in Poland, and when she was 11 years old, she had to quit school and move into a Jewish ghetto. Later, she was sent to a forced labor camp. Her father, a rabbi, was a chaplain in the Polish army, and was never heard from again. Begam lost her mother and brother at Auschwitz, and her older sister and every other member of her extended family at other camps. She fell in love with another Holocaust survivor, and after marrying at 17, they moved to Minnesota and started a new life together.

Seven years ago, Begam shared her story with Candice Ledman's English class at Wayzata High School in Plymouth. A student asked Begam what her biggest regret was, and her answer surprised Ledman. "I expected her to say I wish we would have run, I wish we would have hidden, I wish we would have saved pictures — and she said, 'The one thing I regret is not getting my high school diploma,'" Ledman told KARE-TV. Ledman wanted to do something about this, and when new principal Scott Gengler arrived on campus, he loved the idea of giving Begam an honorary diploma. "It's 71 years overdue," he said. This month, Ledman's class set up a ceremony just for Begam, complete with a special cake and her own cap and gown. In front of proud family, friends, and students, Ledman accepted her diploma. "It's wonderful," she said.