For more than 40 years, the treasure trove of unseen and unpublished possibly important Franz Kafka works lay stacked in piles in a humid apartment in a Tel Aviv suburb. The cache consisted of thousands of decomposing postcards, letters, manuscripts and drawings by the Czech-born Jewish writer.
Well, after a legal battle taking more than two years, papers from a collection began to emerge from the vaults, yesterday, of a bank in Zürich, Switzerland.
The amount of works discovered could lead to a re-assessment of the tormented and reclusive writer, who died at age 40 in 1924, from Tuberculosis, whose family was killed in the Holocaust.
Kafka was born in 1883 in Prague – when he died, he was a little-known Jewish writer with a handful of published German stories to his name.
Just prior to his death in a Vienna sanatorium, the writer entrusted his friend, Max Brod with his collection of unpublished handwritten documents, insisting famously that all papers “should be burned unread and without remnant” after his death. Well this never happened and Max Brod’s former secretary was watching over them in the cat infested first floor Tel Aviv suburb.
Brod, after Kafka’s death did not follow his friends wishes and instead published some of the works including The Metamorphosis, The Trial and The Castle.
When the Nazi’s invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939, Brod, a fervent Zionist, stuffed the collection of manuscripts into a suitcase and left for Israel.
Esther Hoffe, Brod’s housekeeper and alleged lover sold an original manuscript of The Trial in 1988 at Sotheyby’s, on behalf of the German literary archive in the city of Marbach. It fetched an estimated one-million dollars. On a separate occasion, when she was arrested at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport on suspicion of smuggling, letters and a travel journal by Kafka were found in her bag.
Israel’s state archive was allowed to catalogue Hoffe’s collection, yet there was always a suspicion that she had hidden away the most valuable portions of it.
Now that Hoffe has recently passed away at age 101, many in the Jewish Country are angry about talk of removing some of the papers from the country and selling them to Germany’s Marbach archive. Israel regards the Kafka legacy as a national treasure and a very key to pre-Holocaust European Jewish life.