Franz Kafka collection goes on display in Israel after 12-year legal battle

Franz Kafka collection goes on display in Israel after 12-year legal battle

Author's letters, diaries, drawings and manuscripts now viewable at the National Library, following court battle

Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka

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.

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