To avoid being sent to concentration camps, Begley and his mother obtained false papers and pretended to be Polish Catholics. Many of the difficulties and strife they experienced provide the basis for Wartime Lies. At the end of the war the family was reunited. They briefly relocated to Paris and in 1947 moved to New York. Begley graduated from Brooklyn's Erasmus Hall High School in 1950.
Begley graduated from Brooklyn's Erasmus Hall High School in 1950 and earned a scholarship to Harvard University. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1953 and in 1954 earned a summa cum laude degree in English literature.