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At the beginning of the Second World War, Koestler was living in the south of France working on Darkness at Noon. After retreating to Paris he was imprisoned by the French as an undesirable alien even though he had been a respected crusader against fascism. Only luck and his passionate energy allowed him to escape the fate of many of the innocent refugees, who were handed over to the Nazis for torture and often execution. Scum of the Earth is more than the story of Koestler's survival. His shrewd observation of the collapse of French determination to resist during the summer of 1940 is an illustration of what happens when a nation loses its honour and its pride.

Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 663 KB
  • Print Length: 253 pages
  • Publisher: Eland Publishing (18 May 2012)
  • Sold by:  Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B009ZH6VC0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray: Not Enabled
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Screen Reader: Supported
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled

Customer Reviews

A band on the run

 on 10 February 2012
I’m aware that telling readers that before they dip into this book, they should read other works by the author, but to really understand Scum of the Earth properly, one has to read some more Koestler of this period. I apologise !

The Sorrow and the Pity of the French pre-war defeatist attitude finally exposed in 1940.

 on 10 July 2018
By C. J. Boorman
The defeat of France began long before 1940, in the casual racism and defeatism of a nation hiding behind a wall. The Vogon-like bureaucracy of the French establishment, that rounded up and imprisoned the anti-fascists in their midst, before the war, and then handed them over to the Nazis to be exterminated after they willingly surrendered. Along with ‘The Sorrow and the Pity’ film, this book exposes the anti-socialist, pro-Nazi, majority view of the French, before and during the war. Socialists, betrayed by the Communists in Spain and Russia, are the ironically called ‘the scum of the earth’ of the title. A catalogue of French inefficiencies and petty minded self-defeating bureaucracy reveal how the majority of France was more pro-Nazi than the usual image of the brave resistance against impossible odds. Anti-Russian and anti-British feelings pervaded the culture, and perceived all migrants, fleeing the Nazis, as enemies of the French state. By sheer luck and some good contacts, as a well known journalist, all helped him to survive the French concentration camp system, that fed into the Nazi concentration camps after 1940. The French bureaucracy turned its collective back on the victims of the Nazis, its police force rounded up anti-Nazis and Jews alike, to hand them over to death with indifference. The Russian duplicity in their invasion of Poland, at the same time as the Nazis, exposed the communists as liars and untrustworthy.. spelling the end of socialism in France and exposing foreign socialists to being labelled as anti-French conspirators. French indifference to the plight of refugees fleeing persecution under the Nazis is exposed in all its hateful brutality. Few of the French come out of this book as even half-decent human beings. A small minority of French citizens helped, and eventually some of them resisted, while the majority and their establishment worked hand in hand with the Nazis rather than face war. It is a terrible indictment of French society before the war and I would recommend it along with ‘the Sorrow and the Pity’ to get a true feel of the capitulation of the Liberal and Socialist ideals behind the revolutions of 1798 and 1840; Liberté, égalité, fraternité exposed as a myth, long abandoned by the French establishment, in favour a class ridden society of cowardly bureaucracy making sure the German trains to Auschwitz ran on time. De Gaulle was both unknown, unpopular, called a traitor, and enemy of France, long before he became a symbol of French resistance in ’43.

A very personal perspective

 on 16 July 2014
By Mel Powell
Hungarian born journalist, writer, sometime communist and anti nazi Arthur Koestler, charts the outbreak of the Second World War through his own experience. Because it was written before the end of WWII, without the benefit of hindsight or retrospection, it has a very different feel to other factual or biographic accounts from the same period. Koestler, along with other anti nazis communists and various persecuted groups from all over Europe, find themselves rounded up and interned by the French. Koestler, only by the most drawn out and unlikeliest of escapes, avoided the inevitable fate of many of these unfortunate prisoners and managed, eventually, to get to Britain. The story gets bogged down in parts with detailed accounts of the chaotic politics of the time and Kafka-like bureaucracy as the French establishment melts down in the months preceding invasion and the desperate confusion before final capitulation. Great if you are an historian of the period; slightly laborious if you are not (in parts). However, this does not detract from the sense of injustice conveyed, the prejudice encountered by these ‘undesirables’ at the hands of the French and I found myself educated by a writer who skilfully kept me engaged even through the most convoluted intricacies of European pre-war politics. Glad I read it. Might read it again.

An excellent book. Explains so much

 on 29 November 2017
By BpB
Shows superb understanding of the political realities in France during the German invasion and occupation of the Second World War. Thus how some French people subsequently behaved. Extremely readable writing. Keeps moving forward in narrative and observations. No self-pity. An excellent book. Explains so much, so clearly. A man who genuinely reflects on his own thinking and decisions. And covers those self-serving French who joined in opportunistically. Title and cover image are misleading as to quality of content, which is very superior. He writes as a communist but is balanced and observant in his criticisms.

Despair in France……..1940

 on 3 October 2009
The feeling of being hunted….the germans closing in…..few autobiographical accounts seem as devoid of hope as this classic account of novelist Koestlers attempts to flee the occupying Germans in the summer of 1940.

Has come good bits

 on 17 April 2014
By M. Macrae
Of course this is a classic. The actions and thoughts of the French in the run-up and invasion in 1940 are better shown here than in any other writing I think. .. That they hated the English, seeing “the nannies and their bald-kneed children chaperoned past them., but when England was bombed, the English had suffered, then they considered justice had been done”. Not enough has been written about just what the French did in that period.

Brilliant and shocking

 on 3 May 2018
Brilliant and shocking. Worth reading if only for his analysis of French antipathy towards Britain.

Enjoyable and informative read.

 on 12 February 2015
By M & P Bellamy
Wonderful use of English creating a real sense of authentic experience from this brief period of his life covering important events at the start of the Second World War.

A brilliant first-hand account of the collapse of a nation

 on 19 March 2015
By Uncle Albert Camus
A brilliant first-hand account of the collapse of a nation, better even than Homage To Catalonia. Shame he turned out to be a wrong ‘un.

Scum of the earth

 on 19 December 2016
By Kate
Thought provoking book.
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