One Day in Oradour

Written by Helen Watts
Review by Pat Walsh

On 10th June 1944, the inhabitants of the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane were massacred by a company of Waffen-SS soldiers in retaliation for Resistance attacks on German troops. Out of 673 villagers, only 28 adults and one child survived.

Helen Watts recounts what happened in Oradour; how seven-year-old Roger Godfrin managed to escape the slaughter, and the story of Major Adolf Diekmann, the SS officer who led the attack. Watts changes the characters’ names, so Roger becomes Alfred Fournier and Diekmann becomes Major Gustav Dietrich. In her Author’s Note, she explains that locations and various details have been changed, and that some events and characters are fictional.

Watts follows several families over the course of that fatal day, as they go about their lives. The villagers are preparing for the upcoming Corpus Christi festival, and children from the village and the outlying farms are gathering in the school for routine vaccinations. The Waffen-SS seal off the village and over the next few hours, the terrible events leading to the massacre unfold. Watts does not dwell on the grim details. She handles the brutal truth with sensitivity, without shying away from the facts. She also gives us an insight into what drove Major Diekmann/Dietrich to order his company of soldiers to carry out the atrocities.

One Day in Oradour is a brave book that deals with a horrific incident in an unsensational way. We get to know some of the villagers, which makes their fate all the more tragic. The evil of one man and the courage of a young boy, shows the reader the best and worst of humanity. The lack of graphic detail makes this book suitable for younger readers of 10+.