A collection of letters, diaries, drawings and manuscripts from the hand of famed author Franz Kafka has gone on display in Israel for the first-time after a 12-year legal battle worthy of one of his stories.
The materials are now on display in Israel’s National Library, whose lawyers had successfully argued to Israel’s Supreme Court that they were a “cultural asset”.
Kafka, a Bohemian Jew from Prague, died an unknown from tuberculosis aged 40, after bequeathing his writings and correspondence to his friend and protégé Max Brod. Kafka asked Brod to burn them unread, but Brod thought better of it.
He published novels such as The Trial, The Castle and Amerika, and Kafka has since been recognised as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.
In 1938, Brod smuggled Kafka’s archive out to British Mandate Palestine, and throughout his later life passed much of the collection to Israeli state archives. Brod died in 1968, leaving Kafka’s work to his secretary, Esther Hoffe, on the understanding that she would make them publicly available. But she didn’t.
Instead she stashed the collection away in her squalid cat-filled Tel Aviv apartment, occasionally selling parts of the archive for huge sums, such as the manuscript for The Trial to a German institution for the equivalent of £1.5 million.
When Hoffe died in 2008 she passed the remaining files to her two Israeli daughters, who have fought Israel’s National Library for 12 years, describing the rulings against them as “disgraceful” and “first degree robbery”.
Oren Weinberg, the director of Israel’s National Library, said: “We are very happy for this moment, finally, after almost 12 years of legal proceedings, many travels and treasure hunts, to bring Max Brod’s estate with papers of Franz Kafka to Jerusalem.”
Some have likened the 12-year wrangling over unknown archive contents to the surrealism of a Kafka story – in The Trial, a bank clerk goes through excruciating court proceedings without ever knowing what he is charged with.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish News also produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.