Yesterday, safety-deposit boxes in Tel Aviv and Zurich containing masses of Franz Kafka’s papers were opened. Depending on what’s inside them, an Israeli court will rule whether the contents — thought to be thousands of letters, journals, sketches, drawings, and manuscripts of Kafka’s and the writer Max Brod’s — should remain the property of two older women, Eve and Ruth Hoffe, who have suggested they will move the papers to a German archive, or become the property of the state of Israel, which will make them more widely available.
When Kafka died in 1924, he left all of his papers to Brod, and a note that read, “Dearest Max, My last request: Everything I leave behind me [is] to be burned unread.” Brod disregarded this note and prepared The Castle, The Trial, and Amerika for publication. Fleeing Prague for Israel in 1939, he took a suitcase of Kafka’s manuscripts with him, ultimately leaving them to his secretary, Esther Hoffe (mother of Eve and Ruth), who left them in piles around her Tel Aviv apartment — full of cats! — for 40 years. When she died two years ago at 101, legal proceedings about ownership of the papers began in earnest, leading to this week’s big safety-deposit box cracking. While scholars are hoping for insight into Kafka’s character, if not a draft of his unfinished novel Wedding Preparations in the Country, seeing as this is a Kafka-related legal battle, it would only be fitting if it went on for something like eternity.
The bitter legacy of Franz Kafka [Independent UK]