Dr. William Good, who battled Nazis in Poland, dies of COVID-19
It was 1943 and Wowa Zev Gdud, a Jewish teenager who had already escaped execution three times, had a chance to avenge loved ones killed in the Holocaust. He ordered two Lithuanian policemen to kneel at gunpoint in a desolate swamp.
The policemen were from the same unit that had, two years earlier, gunned down his mother and brother. But as Gdud raised his pistol his hand began to tremble. He had already seen too much death, he would explain years later, and he couldn’t add to it. He lowered the gun and walked away.
Gdud would survive the war, study medicine in Italy and eventually emigrate to the U.S., where he changed his named to William Z. Good. He never forgot that day in the swamp when, by choosing humanity over revenge, he took the first steps on a path that would end up touching tens of thousands of lives.
Good, who died in an Azusa senior care community Friday at 96 of complications from COVID-19, ran a quiet medical practice in La Puente, a blue-collar melting pot of cultures where the doctor’s knowledge of 11 languages was invaluable. So was his altruism. For more than five decades everyone received the same treatment whether they could pay or not, and many couldn’t.
“I often worked in the office on holidays and summers and witnessed his kindness and generosity with both his time and financially with his patients,” said Donna Daniel, whose mother, Tommie Allen, worked as one of Good’s nurses for 45 years. “Everyone got his full attention.”
His son Michael, who runs his own medical practice in Connecticut, said his father made house calls, assisted in the operating room and delivered more than 2,000 babies.
“He was such an extraordinarily kind person,” remembered Richard Pace, who, as an accident-prone child growing up in West Covina, was a frequent visitor to the doctor’s office. “He also had a wonderful sense of humor.”
Good was born in Minsk, Belarus, but grew up outside Vilna, Poland, a city that would be claimed by three countries during World War II. Shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Good was captured and taken to the notorious Ponary killing ground, where the bullet meant for him just missed. He survived by falling into a pit and feigning death among the corpses.
There would be other close calls during the war, much of it spent hiding in the forest with his father, occasionally joining the resistance in sabotaging Nazi rail lines and surviving thanks to the bravery of local families. Good’s wartime experiences were largely unknown to his former patients until he was profiled in The Times in September.
Good never killed anyone, something he said shamed him during the war but later, when he had children of his own, became a point of pride.
“We did not kill. They killed our children, so we have nothing to hide,” he said in an interview.
“I’ll tell you,” he continued, “most people are very angry — ‘Look what they did to us.’ And so they don’t go on with their lives. They are bitter. [But] if I am angry at you, it’s eating me. You don’t even know that I’m angry at you.
“So I decided that that’s a dead emotion, and I better get rid of that. And I did that early in life.”
After the war, Good made it to Italy, where he studied medicine and, with two other medical students, founded a hostel for Jewish war refugees. That was where he met Perela Esterowicz, a doctoral student in chemistry who survived the Holocaust in a work camp in Vilna; she later took the name Pearl and became his wife of 67 years.
Their story is told by their son Michael in “The Search for Major Plagge: The Nazi Who Saved Jews,” which recounts the couple’s 1999 return to Vilna to learn more about Karl Plagge, a mysterious German officer who ran the Vilna camp but helped save hundreds of Jews. Pearl Good would later unveil his name when it was added to the Wall of the Righteous at the Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem.
Good is survived by Pearl, 91; three children, all of whom are doctors; six grandchildren, one a doctor; and three great-grandchildren. Funeral services will be in private. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Temple Ami Shalom (templeamishalom.org) or The American Joint Distribution Committee (www.jdc.org)
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get all the day's most vital news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.