Franz Kafka’s Lost Writings Resurface

“In the fight between you and the world, back the world.” ~ Franz Kafka

Elderly sisters, Ruth Wisler and Eva Hoffe, might want to take Kafka’s warning to heart. For years, the siblings have had a secret. Their mother had been a secretary for Max Brod.  Brod had been Kafka’s publisher as well as a friend.  Before his death from tuberculosis in 1924, Kafka bequeathed all of his unpublished work to Brod with the caveat that he destroy everything unread.

Brod did read and publish numerous works that came into his possession, among them Amerika, The Castle, and The Trial, but he did not publish everything.  He went against Kafka’s wishes and retained those unread manuscripts, even smuggling them out of Nazi pre-state Israel in 1968.  For the next three decades, Brod kept the works in a safety deposit box until his own death in 1968. In his will,  Brod named his secretary, Esther Hoffe, the administrator of his literary estate.  Hoffe was supposed to deliver the papers to an academic institution.

She did not.

Instead, for the next forty years, Hoffe kept the papers in safety deposit boxes in Zurich and Tel Aviv, but also retained some documents at her apartment in Israel. She also profited from some of the work, selling the original manuscript of The Trial at auction for a sum of $1.8 million dollars.

Hoffe’s own will bequeathed the Kafka manuscripts to her two daughters, Eva and Ruth.  However, the Israeli National Library immediately sought ownership of the works, claiming that since Hoffe did not follow Brod’s instructions to find an academic home for the manuscripts, she violated the tenets of the will.  As the court battles ensued, many of Kafka’s  papers stayed in the sisters’ flat, to the horror of more than a few archivists, for the papers also shared space with the siblings’ numerous cats.

A year ago, the Tel Aviv courts ordered the collection to be opened. They have been trying to determine exactly what is in the collection before ruling on rightful ownership. The decision is expected to come soon, possibly by the end of August 2010.

Whatever the outcome of ownership, scholars will have access to the treasure trove and many years of study lie ahead.