Israeli Court Rules Library to Get Kafka Papers, Lawyer Says

Kafka Papers
Papers that once belonged to Franz Kafka have been the subject of a court case as archivists collect other material by the late author. This photo shows a collection of photographs of the writer and his friends Albert Ehrenstein, Otto Pick and Lisa Weltsch. Source: The National Library of Israel via Bloomberg

A cache of as yet unseen Franz Kafka manuscripts will be made available online to scholars after an Israeli court ruled they weren’t given as a gift to the secretary of the author’s executor and friend Max Brod.

According to the Tel Aviv Family Court decision, the papers, which were stashed away in safes and attics for years, will become the property of the National Library of Israel, which promised in a statement to scan and put them on its website.

“We are talking about a historical decision that brought justice to Max Brod and his friend Kafka,” Meir Heller, lawyer for the library, said by telephone. Harel Ashwall, the lawyer for the secretary’s two daughters, disagreed and said he planned to appeal the ruling.

Kathi Diamant, director of the Kafka Project at San Diego State University, has said in the past that papers that may be part of the collection may help scholars locate some Kafka notebooks that the Gestapo confiscated from the author’s companion, Dora Diamant.

The dispute over the papers began with Brod, a German-language author best known for his Kafka biography and historical novels. Though Kafka’s last wish was for his papers to be burned, Brod kept them, ensuring the publication of “The Trial” and “The Castle.”

Literary Estate

When Brod died in 1968, he left his estate to his secretary Esther Hoffe, who then left it to her daughters. The court ruled today that the will intended for Brod’s literary estate, including the Kafka manuscripts, to be given to a public institution and kept intact.

“We think that the decision does not reflect the intentions and desire of Max Brod, in fact the opposite is true,” Ashwall said in an e-mailed response to the ruling. “We also think the ruling is flawed in legal terms.”

For decades, Hoffe declined to make the papers available to the public, frustrating archivists and scholars alike. Kafka specialists had hoped her daughters would open the files, providing new insights into the author, who died of tuberculosis in 1924.

When the sisters, now in their 70s, attempted to ratify their mother’s will in January 2008, the state of Israel intervened. The case landed in the family court, where the National Library became a party to the proceedings.

Internet Plan

The library plans to catalog and preserve the papers, then, “in the not so distant future scan and open them up to all on the Internet, in this way fulfilling Brod’s will,” Oren Weinberg, director of the library, said in an e-mailed statement.

During her lifetime, Hoffe sold a handwritten manuscript of Kafka’s “The Trial” for $1.98 million at a 1988 Sotheby’s auction in London.

Heller said he hoped that all Kafka papers that were bought from Hoffe in the past will now be returned to their proper place at the library in Jerusalem so they can be presented together to scholars.

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