You couldn’t make it up.
Some books are very scary, very exciting and sometimes filled with unimaginable cruelty and horror. But if you wanted to invent a plot that was beyond awful, I still don’t think you’d go quite as far as what happened in Oradour.
Helen Watts has written One Day in Oradour, and based it on the real events from one day in 1944 in this French village. While she has fictionalised parts of the day’s events – because she wasn’t there that day – and changed the names, it is all mostly as it happened.
What concerns me is that I’d never heard of this massacre of French civilians by German troups. I suppose the killing of nearly everyone in a village during a war might be seen as ‘natural’ somehow. Maybe, but not like this.
Reading the first half of the book I could barely continue. You know what will happen and to watch as the villagers go about their peaceful, almost idyllic, lives, considering there was a war on, you just want to walk away and not find out how.
But you have to, and I did. It’s compelling reading, but so heart-rending, that it’s tempting to skip bits, to arrive sooner, and to avoid some of the atrocities. I’ll let you decide which you do.
A few people survive the German’s revenge for the killing of one of their top men in the area. And one child. Read that again. One child. It’s the boy on the cover. He was seven. He was real. He lived until 2001. And I never heard of this.
This isn’t a book for everyone. I’d like to think people would learn, by reading it. But I suspect some of us never learn.