A Minnesota high school had the honor of awarding an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor an honorary high school diploma earlier this month.
“It’s 71 years overdue,” said Wayzata High School principal Scott Gengler.
Esther Begam was invited to the school seven years ago to share her story. During her time at the school, Begam told the students and staff how she was taken from her home in 1942 at the age of 11 and sent to a forced labor camp soon thereafter.
Begam’s father was a Jewish rabbi who went to serve as a chaplain for the Polish army and was never seen again. Her mother and brother were sent to Auschwitz, where they were both killed. Like Begam, her sister was sent to a labor camp, although she did not survive.
In the end, Begam said she was left with no family whatsoever; No parents or siblings, no grandparents, cousins, aunts, or uncles.
“They were all gone,” Begam said.
But Begam came to America, married another Holocaust survivor at the age of 17, and started a family of her own.
While addressing the students in Candice Ledman’s class, Begam was asked by one of the students what she felt was her biggest regret.
“I expected her to say I wish we would have run, I wish we would have hidden, I wish we would have saved pictures,” Ledman said. “And she said, ‘The one thing I regret is not getting my high school diploma.’”
Begam said she came from a very educated family. In fact, her father spoke more than half a doze languages. But for Begam, school – and the idea of a high school diploma – was but a distant memory for her.
Her confession moved Ledman, who then approached the school administrators about giving an honorary diploma to Begam. To Ledman’s disappointment, she was told that wasn’t something the school did.
But several years later, Gengler joined the school administration as principal and Ledman presented the idea once again.
“I wasn’t four sentences into explaining Esther’s full story and he said, ‘Absolutely, let’s do it. We need to do this,’” Ledman said.
So the school made it happen and more than 70 years after her family and entire life was taken from her as a child, Esther Begam walked across the floor to receive her high school diploma while surrounded by children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
[ Current-Argus ]