Israel’s supreme court has finally put an end to a seven year long saga, ruling that an archive of Franz Kafka manuscripts should stay in Israel and be transferred to the country’s National Library. Two lower courts had previously also arrived at the same decision.
Eva Hoffe had received the manuscripts, among other works, from her mother, who had been the secretary of Kafka’s friend, the biographer Max Brod. On Kafka’s death in 1924, Brod became the literary executor of the Kafka estate.
Brod preserved Kafka’s unpublished works intact, despite Kafka’s will stipulating all his papers should be burnt. Brod defended this decision by saying that when Kafka asked him to be his executor he told him he would not carry out this particular wish. Brod had praised Kafka as “the greatest poet of our time”, ranking up there with Goethe or Tolstoy.
When Brod fled Prague in 1939, to escape the Nazis, he took with him a suitcase of Kafka’s notes, diaries, sketches, and unpublished papers. Later some materials were published, in six volumes of collected works, but much of the oeuvre remained un-released.
Upon Brod’s death in 1968, all the remains materials were passed to Esther Hoffe, Brod’s secretary and, at least presumed by some, possibly also his mistress.
In 1988 one original manuscript of The Trial was auctioned for $2 million. She maintained most of the rest until her own death in 2007.
The National Library of Israel believes that Brod actually passed the papers to Esther with the intent to have the papers donated to the library. On the other side sit Esther’s daughters, who claim that Brod’s inheritance should be theirs. The sisters announced their intention to sell the materials to the Museum of Modern Literature in Marbach, Germany.
The National Library says the high court has now ruled it was “the preferred location” for the remaining trove of unpublished Kafka works. The library says it will make the manuscripts accessible to the general public.