Editorial: Monday mix on Holocaust; cow embryos; R.A.D. course

  • Holocaust survivor Henny (Wisgardisky) Lewin, 78, of North Amherst, on Jan. 30 holds an old photograph of herself as a child, front left, with her parents Gita and Jonas Wisgardisky and cousin Shoshana (Berk) Sarid, featuring a fake passport stamp they used to escape, at right. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Monday, February 05, 2018

A 78-year-old woman who grew up in Lithuania gave Granby students a firsthand history lesson last week about one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.

Henia Lewin, who now lives in North Amherst, told 120 7th- and 8th-grade students at Granby Junior/Senior High School about her escape in a suitcase from the Kovno Ghetto where her middle-class family was taken in 1941 by the Nazis from their home in south-central Lithuania.

“It was probably big enough for about 6,000 people, but now they crammed in those 40,000 Jews from Kaunas,” Levin said. When the war ended, only about 2,000 had survived.

Levin said she wanted to share her experience with students while she is still alive. “I feel an obligation while I’m still around to tell their story because in a few years from now you’re only going to get it from books and videos,” she told the students.

Lewin was 1½ when the Nazis invaded Lithuania. “My memories are from a little bit later, from the age of 3, 4, 5,” Lewin said. “But when I was a teenager, I started asking my parents questions. They were reluctant to discuss their experiences, having lost parents and brother and sisters and nieces and nephews. They were really not anxious to discuss it, which is true for a lot of Holocaust survivors.”

From what Lewin was able to piece together, there was concern “that the Germans decided to collect all the children. In our ghetto, people were saying, ‘We have to do something to smuggle our children out.’ ”

Lewin was sedated and smuggled away in a suitcase. She lived with a Lithuanian couple for about two years until she was reunited with her parents who managed to escape from the Kovno Ghetto.

Granby Grade 8 history teacher Michael Stapert said, “We believe having Ms. Lewin speak about her experiences will bring the issues associated with this historical period to life in a way that will challenge our students to confront the prejudices that can set one people against another.”

Lewin delivered an important lesson: “The people I am most angry with are the bystanders — the people who didn’t get involved to stop the evil. Don’t be a bystander. Be a person that does good.”

That’s a powerful message from a woman who experienced evil during her childhood.

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Students at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton are practicing high-tech biology with the cattle on their farm.

Covergirl, a 9-year-old cow, is expected to give birth this spring to a calf that will be entirely unrelated genetically to her. Covergirl was impregnated with an embryo transfer procedure that allows the fertilized egg of one cow to be inserted into another and carried to term.

While a common practice in breeding livestock for shows, embryo transfer is rarely done at high schools. Smith Vocational purchased four embryos for $550 each a year ago, and Covergirl is carrying the first one.

“It’s really about the genetics and quality,” said Beth Wilson, an agriculture instructor at Smith School. “The result is hopefully what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a larger cow, sure. If you want a cow that’s going to make a lot more milk because it’s the dairy industry, then hopefully that’s your result.”

There’s no guarantee, however, that the desired traits will be seen in the calf because there is still much uncertainty in the field of genetics. Whatever happens, these agriculture students are getting a 21st-century schooling in biology.

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Kudos to the Belchertown Police Department for its commitment to teaching Rape Aggression Defense Systems (R.A.D.) courses. Last week, eight women graduated from the second class offered by Belchertown Police free to area residents.

Women are taught self-defense moves as well as to yell “No!” as they practice them. “Even just to use your voice, it’s kind of embarrassing,” said Diane Connors, of Ludlow. “Women are used to being quiet and timid and not aggressive, so you’ve kind of got to throw that all aside.”

Another class will be offered in the spring, and information about other R.A.D. courses taught by Belchertown Police is available online at