Germany hands trove of 5,000 lost Franz Kafka documents to Israel

Germany hands trove of 5,000 lost Franz Kafka documents to Israel

Items are among some 40,000 document that once belonged to writer's confidant Max Brod, which are being brought together again in Israel's National Library.

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka

Germany’s Federal Criminal Police (BKA) has handed over thousands of stolen, previously unknown papers from the Max Brod Archive to National Library of Israel officials, at an event at the Israeli ambassador’s residence in Berlin. The current ambassador, Jeremy Issacharoff, is British by birth and an ex-pupil of Hasmonean Grammar School.

Max Brod was a close friend of Franz Kafka, and the man responsible for bringing his famous works to light.

The event was part of the renewal process undertaken by the National Library and the expansion of the Library’s international co-operation initiatives, including a range of joint projects with German research and cultural institutions.

The National Library chairman David Blumberg and its chief executive, Oren Weinberg, arrived in Berlin to present the Library’s collections and goals to leading members of German society — and to receive the first tranche of the Max Brod papers, including letters, drafts of plays, diaries and other manuscripts written by the author, composer and playwright Max Brod.

What did this have to do with the German police? In 2013 many of these documents were offered for sale to the German Literature Archive in Marbach and other potential buyers.

But it became clear that 5,000 pages of documents were part of Brod’s private archive, and had been stolen from the home of his secretary. As well as Brod’s personal papers, the collection includes a 1910 postcard signed by his close friend Franz Kafka.

Brod is primarily responsible for Kafka’s success as one of the 20th century’s most influential writers, having published many of his works after the author’s death in 1924 — despite Kafka’s famous wish that they should be burnt.

Legal proceedings in Israel and Germany resulted in a verdict by the regional court in Wiesbaden declaring that the stolen papers should be transferred to the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, where they will be made publicly available. Three large suitcases containing the materials were transferred to Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) for temporary safekeeping. These have  now been handed over to the National Library of Israel.

In accordance with Max Brod’s own wishes that his collections, including Kafka’s writings, be made accessible to the public and kept in a public archive, the National Library has been working in recent years to make this a reality. As part of this activity, many of Brod’s manuscripts were collected, including personal diaries.

Among these is a diary written when Brod was Kafka’s closest friend in Prague. The diary was thought to be lost and had drawn interest from literary scholars around the world. Other papers in the collection describe Brod’s relationship with the Prague Circle (a group of Zionist students in Prague who surrounded Franz Kafka and who were the first in the Zionist movement to formulate the idea of a bi-national state in the land of Israel). Many of the personal archives of the members of this group are also preserved in the National Library.

Over the years the Library had become aware that items from the Brod estate had made their way, one way or another, to Germany, with the purpose of eventually selling them.

According to National Library archivist and Humanities Collection curator, Dr Stefan Litt: “The correspondence in the archive is extensive and impressive. It can be characterised as a type of ‘who’s who’ of the European cultural world in the first four decades of the 20th century.”

The National Library chairman, David Blumberg, said: “We are pleased that even after so much time has passed since these papers were stolen, there is now some closure and they will be coming to the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, in accordance with Max Brod’s wishes.”

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