The Good at Heart

Written by Ursula Werner
Review by Janice Ottersberg

This story of the Eberhardt family, living in the small German village of Blumental, takes place over three days in July 1944; it is based on the author’s family history. The diverse mindsets of the German people are reflected in the Eberhardts. Oscar, a member of Hitler’s cabinet, is aware of events, obeys orders, and keeps quiet to survive and protect his family; his wife, Edith, doesn’t question the events around her, chooses to believe the propaganda, and ignores the rumors of evil; his daughter, Marina, seeks the truth, speaks up and resists by helping to smuggle out refugees; his foster son, Erich, a general in Hitler’s army, begins to question authority; and his grandchildren, indoctrinated in the edicts of the Third Reich, don’t even know to question.

Day 1: the villagers are under threat by their own army. The German captain tasked with guarding the Swiss/German border has accused the villagers of treason and sets out to hang the mayor as a lesson to all. Day 2: Marina is part of a plan to see a Jewish refugee family safely across the border while Edith and the rest of the village prepare for a visit from Hitler. A plot is also underway to assassinate Hitler during his visit. Day 3 sees the tension build and the culmination of these plots, with tragic fallout.

The author does a wonderful job of presenting the moral dilemmas the family faced as a whole, and as individuals, as well as the conflicts of belief between family members. This book made me realize how easily the Germans were drawn into complicity by Hitler’s manipulation, and once in that position, how limited their choices were. Many were “good at heart”—caught up in an evil from which they could not escape without deadly consequences.