Court Stops Sell-Off of Franz Kafka Manuscripts, Awards Portfolio Worth Millions to Israel Library

The works will now be digitized and made public.

After a long and—cough—Kafkaesque legal battle, a rare collection of author Franz Kafka’s manuscripts, worth millions, have been awarded to Israel National Library by a court in Tel Aviv.

Much loved, and influential author Kafka was born in Prague in 1883, and did not live to see the majority of his writing published. Leading up to his death in of TB in 1924 the writer gave all his manuscripts—published and unpublished—to his friend Max Brod, instructing him to burn the whole lot after he died.

Max Brod  Photo: via Wikpedia

Max Brod posthumously published his friend’s work.
Photo: via Wikpedia.

Brod fled Prague for Palestine during the Nazi invasion and ignored Kafka’s requests, publishing his friend’s work, including the The Process (1925), The Trial (1926), and The Castle (1926).

These books have gone on to influence generations of writers, philosophers and political thinkers, The Trial (1962) being famously adapted for the screen by director Orson Welles, and The Castle or Das Schloss (1968) by Rudolf Noelte

On his death in 1968, Brod left Kafka’s manuscripts—including additional unpublished works—to his secretary Esther Hoffe with the explicit instruction to keep them intact.

She was to “publish his work and ensure after her death that his literary estate be placed for safekeeping in a suitable institution,” the court record showed.

An original copy of Das Schloss or The Castle by Kafka Photo: Wikipedia

An original copy of Das Schloss or The Castle by Kafka. 
Photo: Wikipedia.

However, in 1973 it emerged that Hoffe had been offering the highly desirable documents up for sale at foreign auctions. The documents would not only potentially sell for high prices but also generate very large sums of money for whoever purchased them.

She was subsequently informed by the Israeli attorney general that, “according to Brod’s will she must not dispose of any of the documents.”

Since that time, the documents remained in Esther Hoffe’s possession, until she died in 2007 and left them to her two daughters Eva and Ruth Hoffe.

Although it is known that some documents are in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University and the original manuscript for The Trial was sold to the German Literature Archive in Marbach for $2 million by Hoffe in 1988.

In 2008, a year after their mother’s death, the Hoffe sisters filed a claim to a Swiss Court, saying that Kafka’s writings belonged to them. A court in Tel Aviv ordered the opening of the safety deposit boxes containing the papers in 2010, with the claim finally being rejected in 2012. The document that accompanied the ruling was 62-pages long.

An original copy of A Hunder Artist or Ein Hunger Künstler by Kafka Photo: Wikipedia

An original copy of A Hunger Artist or Ein Hunger Künstler by Kafka. 
Photo: Wikipedia.

The 42-year-long dispute was finally settled last week in Israel and the court decided against the only surviving daughter of Esther Hoffe, Eva.

“Brod’s last wish was that his life’s work, his material legacy, should be entrusted in its entirety to public archives,” the court accepted, thus siding with the Israeli National Library.

The documents will eventually be uploaded onto the library’s website.

Given this latest ruling, it is unclear whether the manuscripts that had already been sold should be returned.


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