Kafka papers must be turned over to National Library, court rules

Decision ends five-year battle by archive holders hoping to sell trove of papers to Germany

Franz Kafka in 1906. (public domain)
Franz Kafka in 1906. (public domain)

The Tel Aviv District Court ordered a trove of documents belonging to Franz Kafka and colleague Max Brod be given over to the National Library on Sunday, ending a five-year legal battle over the fate of the papers.

The documents have been in the possession of two sisters, Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler, since 2007. The sisters inherited the valuable archive from their mother, Ester Hoffe, who was Max Brod’s secretary.

They wished to maintain their control over the papers and receive permission to sell them to the German National Archive, while the National Library maintained that Brod stipulated in his will that the papers be made public and turned over to the Israeli institution.

According to a Haaretz report, the judge in the case rejected the sisters’ central claim that they received the manuscripts as a gift, and wrote that “I do not believe the plaintiffs have met the requirements… one can determine that the Kafka manuscripts… were not given to the plaintiffs as gifts.”

Kafka, who wrote in German, is regarded as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. He died in 1924 and ordered that his papers be burned. But literary executor and friend Max Brod, himself a prolific writer and journalist, disregarded this and edited and published some of Kafka’s works in the years following his death.

When Brod fled Europe to Israel in 1939, he brought with him a collection of Kafka’s documents, correspondence and papers, a small amount of which he was able to publish. Upon Brod’s death in 1968, the documents passed to his secretary and then — after Hoffe’s passing in 2007 — to her two daughters.

Although they lost the court battle, Hoffe’s daughters will still be entitled to royalties from future publications from the archive. They were ordered by the court to pay the legal fees of the National Library and the German National Archive.

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