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Based on the author’s discoveries about her great-grandfather, this extraordinary debut, full of love, tragedy, and suspense, is a sensitive portrait of a family torn between doing their duty for their country and doing what’s right for their country, and especially for those they love.

Paper Texture
Hans Posse, great grandfather of Ursula Werner, author of The Good at Heart
Hans Posse with dachshund, great grandfather of Ursula Werner, author of The Good at Heart

Photographs of Hans Ernst Posse, the authors great-grandfather


Growing up, I knew two things about my great-grandfather: He was very tall, and he was a member of Hitler’s cabinet.


Once I learned about World War II and the Holocaust at school, I was horrified at my great-grandfather’s position in the Nazi government. I couldn’t help wondering what he knew or didn’t know, what he did or didn’t do, to further Hitler’s barbaric ambitions.


My family told me that Hans Ernst Posse was the German Secretary of Economy from 1928 to 1945. Other than that, they said nothing. Although I tried to get more information, I met a wall of silence as impenetrable as the Berlin wall. It wasn’t that they were hiding information, but that they didn’t know exactly what role Hans Posse played in Hitler’s atrocities, and that they were way too terrified to find out the truth. And there was no public information about Hans Ernst Posse that could give me clues.

I began The Good at Heart because I felt compelled to understand who my great-grandfather was. Oskar and Edith Eberhardt allowed me to explore some of the questions I had about my great-grandparents and the life they lived. Then, in 2012, I got some real-life answers.

I was in Hamburg visiting my aunt, when I stumbled across an old file of newspaper clippings and letters, a file that my aunt later admitted she knew nothing about. The letters were dated 1947 and were addressed to the “Tribunal for De-Nazification.” This ad hoc Allied judicial committee was established after the war to determine whether lesser Nazi officials like my great-grandfather should be prosecuted for war crimes.


The letters in this file – correspondence handwritten or typed on thick, yellowing paper, with traces of mold and mildew accumulated over 65 years -- told me that Hans Ernst Posse was a decent, honest man. They told me that he tried, whenever possible, to help Jewish friends and colleagues persecuted by the Nazis. One letter writer, Leopold Trier, said that my great-grandfather urged him to leave the country “as quickly as possible,” because he feared that things would get “very dark” for Jews in Germany. Mr. Trier wrote that Hans Posse “apologised for having to face me as a tool of the Nazis,” and said that he was staying in the government to help people “in distress” and to make sure that “the regulations against Jews [be] applied in a very lenient way.”


Since discovering Mr. Trier’s letter three years ago, I have practically memorized its contents. Sometimes I take it out just to touch it, to feel the heavy paper, to run my fingers over the typewriter ribbon-smudged letters. A part of me is transported, each time I hold it, back to the time when it was written, and I wonder what my great-grandfather was thinking, stuck in a prison during a cold north German winter, held to answer for the crimes of an administration that he wanted absolutely no part of. I want to reach out and reassure him that I know now what he tried to do, that it was noble and sincere, if ultimately woefully insufficient to withstand the unfathomable machinery of hatred that was being set into motion. I want to tell him that what he did for Leopold Trier and others shone a tiny beacon of light in a vast cave of darkness.

Letter from Leopold Trier in support of Hans Posse, Ursula Werner's great grandfather


Paper Texture

Listen to a sample of the audiobook version of 'The Good at Heart'


“With The Good at Heart, Ursula Werner has written a book that lionizes the human experience.  Hopeful and tragic, poignant and inspiring, it's a story made all the  more compelling because it springs from the truth.  A thrilling tale of ordinary people facing epic choices in a world gone mad.”

David R. Gilham, author of City of Women

"Its title recalling the poignant diary entry Anne Frank left behind as her family was lead to the death camps, The Good at Heart is a brutal and beautiful story that answers ancient questions about what “good Germans” were thinking as their country descended into madness. Poet Ursula Werner packs her debut novel with jaw-clenching suspense and unexpected tenderness, and an ending that would break the heart of a stone."

Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean and Two if By Sea

“In this delightfully written debut, the Eberhardt women, Edith and Marina, work tirelessly to protect their children from war in the bucolic German countryside.  But nothing can protect them from the fact that they are Nazis.  With Grandpa Oskar about to bring the Fuhrer to visit, tension rises and there will be a price to pay for the denial, the guilt and the sometimes impossible choice between family and morality.”

Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and The Summer Before the War

"With skillful eloquence, Ursula Werner weaves a compelling tale of ordinary people living in extraordinarily complex and character-defining times. Poignant and moving, this World War II story paints a fresh perspective on what we are willing to surrender for the greater good."

Susan Meissner, author of Secrets of a Charmed Life

"With a title based on an Anne Frank quote, this lyrical and moving novel tells the story of a family living in a small town in Germany in 1944, and answers the questions, "What did they know?  What could they do?"  Drawn from the author's discoveries about her great grandfather, this book is both poetic and thrilling.  The picturesque setting and the innocence of the children contrast powerfully with the encroaching evil of the Third Reich.  Highly recommended."

Tim Benz, Staff Pick at Joseph-Beth Booksellers 

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