William Begell (born Wilhelm Beigel) is the son of Ferdinand and Liza (Kowarsky) Beigel. He was born May 18, 1927 in Vilna, where his family owned the Hotel Bristol, the largest hotel in the city. The extended Beigel family lived in the hotel before World War II. Wilhelm's father was an officer in the Polish army. The Beigel family was marginally religious, attending synagogue only on the high holidays. Wilhelm attended the Miesckiewicz Polish gymnasium until the Soviets seized control of Vilna in 1940, and then went to the Russian Lenin high school. Following the German invasion of Lithuania in June 1941, the Beigel family went to work for a German regiment, identified as L27341. Wilhelm was assigned to the kitchen, where he chopped wood, and organized the delivery of food and the unloading of supplies. In September 1941, the Germans established a ghetto in Vilna. Owing to his military background, Wilhelm's father, Ferdinand, became a member of the Jewish police in charge of the Jewish prison. The immediate family lived in the ghetto for the next two years. On September 4, 1943 Latvian SS shot and killed Ferdinand. Wilhelm, who was in the hospital with pleurisy at the time, found announcements of his father's death printed by the graphics department of the ghetto. A week and a half later, on September 23, 1943, the ghetto was liquidated. Just prior to its liquidation a number of Jewish labor camps were established in the city. Several hundred skilled workers and their families were transferred to these camps from the ghetto. Wilhelm, his mother and maternal grandmother were sent by Jacob Gens to the HKP (Heereskraftfahrpark/Ost/562) labor camp. Gens thought this would save them from deportation. At HKP, the men worked in the German vehicle repair shops and the women, in the kitchen or sewing shops. Wilhelm escaped from this labor camp on June 30, 1944 and returned to Vilna, where he was liberated two weeks later. Subsequently, he learned that his mother and grandmother had been taken to Ponary and shot four days after he had left the camp. Just before moving into the Vilna ghetto, the Beigel family hid their photo albums in the attic of their home. After the liberation Wilhelm retrieved the albums. He took selected photographs with him when he fled Lithuania with the Bricha (even though he was told not to bring anything which might identify him). After reaching Germany, Wilhelm finished high school (first in Munich and then in Dillinger an der Donau). In June 1947, with the help of an uncle in New York City, he immigrated to the U.S. aboard the SS Marine Marlin.