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Israel Court orders Kafka papers turned over

August 9, 2016

Israel's Supreme Court has ordered a collection of Franz Kafka's writings to be transferred to the National Library. The decision ends a lengthy legal battle.

Franz Kafka
Image: picture alliance/CPA Media

Israel's Supreme Court ruled Franz Kafka's manuscripts the property of the National Library in Jerusalem, ending a lengthy legal battle, judicial sources told news agencies on Monday. Authorities argued that the writings had become part of Israel's heritage.

"This is a celebratory day for any person of culture - in Israel and abroad," David Blumberg, the board chairman of the National Library of Israel, said on Monday. "The National Library will follow the court's ruling and will preserve the cultural assets by keeping them in the country as well as making them accessible to the general public," he added.

Kafka, born in Prague, died of tuberculosis in 1924 at the age of 40. He bequeathed his writings to his close friend Max Brod, the executor of his will, ordering him to burn everything not yet read.

'An appropriate place'

Brod ultimately published many of the writer's works. When Brod fled Prague for then-Palestine in 1939, he took with him a suitcase full of Kafka's writings. When Brod died in 1968 in Tel Aviv, he left the papers to his secretary, Esther Hoffe, with instructions to give them to the "Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the municipal library in Tel Aviv or another organisation in Israel or abroad." In addition to other papers, however, Hoffe sold the original manuscript of "The Trial" for $2 million and passed the rest on to her daughters, Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler, when she died in 2007.

In the trial against Hoffe's heirs, which began in 2009, Israeli officials demanded that the women hand over all the documents, which included unpublished writings, according to Brod's last will. Hoffe's daughters refused, however, saying Brod had given the papers to their mothers to dispose of any way she wanted.

On Sunday, however, the Supreme Court found differently: "Max Brod did not want his property to be sold at the best price, but for them to find an appropriate place in a literary and cultural institution."

In a statement, the library announced that it would receive handwritten correspondence between Kafka and Brod, as well as the writer's Paris journals and assorted drawings. Hoffe and her daughters had kept most of the collection in banks in Israel and Switzerland.

mkg/bw (AFP, dpa)