Esther Begam

a returned treasure

When the German army entered Poland in 1939 Esther Reicher was only 11 years old. Her father Mordechai, a well-respected rabbi, was away serving as a chaplain in the Polish army. Esther, her mother, older sister and little brother were caught by the tightening grip of the Nazi war machine. It soon became clear to the family that they, along with the rest of the Chrzanow Jewish community, would be sent to slave labor or death camps.

Knowing that all personal items would be confiscated and destroyed by the Nazis, Esther’s mother the Rebbeztin Chaya Sura, tried to save the most precious items that the family owned; her husband’s extensive library of religious books which included texts by the Sfas Emes, a famous Hasidic rabbi. Before being shipped to the concentration camp, Chaya Sura left the books with her non-Jewish Polish neighbor.

Esther was the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust. Following the war she married Israel Begam, also the sole survivor of his family. In 1949 they settled in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In 2004, Esther and her three daughters returned to Chrzanow. There is no longer a Jewish community in this small Polish town. Still, when Esther and her daughters knocked on the former neighbor’s door, they were greeted by the family’s daughter. To their surprise they were reunited with the family treasure; the surviving books that were hidden by this Polish family for over half a century. Today the remnants of this library reside safely in the homes of Esther’s daughters, a tangible legacy of Mordechai and Chaya Sura’s faith.