BERLIN - For the past two weeks, many journalists from all over the world have been trying to locate the woman in this picture, Hava Hoffe, 74. Haaretz photographer Dan Keinan succeeded in capturing her on Tuesday outside her apartment in central Tel Aviv, thereby dispelling some of the mystery that has enveloped her ever since her story was broken in Haaretz at the beginning of the month.
Many believe Hoffe has an important literary treasure in her apartment: articles from the estate of writer Franz Kafka, the 125th anniversary of whose birth was marked at the beginning of this month. She inherited this material from her mother Esther Hoffe, who died last year and who was a close friend of Kafka's friend Max Brod.
Before she died, Esther Hoffe succeeded in selling some of the famous writer's manuscripts for millions of dollars and in scattering them all over the world. No one knows for certain what is in her daughter's hands, but the material could well include manuscripts, drawings and letters by Kafka and Brod.
Now researchers and journalists from around the world are tensely following Hoffe and the way she proposes to deal with the material. At the same time, official sources have also expressed interest in the matter, most notably State Archivist Yehoshua Freundlich. This week, he sent a legal warning to Hoffe, reminding her of her obligation to obey the rules that are dictated by the Archives Law in Israel, which forbids the removal from the country of archival items of importance to the history and culture of the Jewish people without inspection and supervision.
A copy of this letter has also been sent to Ruth Hoffe, Hava's sister. Freundlich has also sent a letter in a similar spirit to the German Literary Archive in Marbach, which has expressed a great deal of interest in getting its hands on the papers.
"I have read reports in the newspapers about the intention to remove the estate of Kafka and Brod from Israel," wrote the archivist. "This is the private property of a number of people and I would like to draw your attention to the Archives Law in Israel, which prohibits the removal of archival materials that are of importance to its history and culture and that of the Jewish people without permission from the archivist."
In the wake of the publication of the article in Haaretz, Rafi Witter of the archives department at the National Library in Jerusalem also recalled his unsuccessful attempts to obtain the Kafka-Brod papers that have been squirreled away. "We have a file overflowing with reports and correspondence with Mrs. Esther Hoffe, from 1982 on, in attempts to obtain the Brod archive. All these attempts did not succeed. She was an 'impossible' woman, to say the least."
According to him, Brod's attorney, who has also passed away, "thwarted every attempt to reach an agreement with her."
Since the story was broken here it has been extensively covered in much of the international media. Particular interest in the story has been expressed by the German media, which at the beginning of this month marked Kafka's birthday with a series of articles and features.
Meanwhile, a number of new books about the writer have been published, most notably the second part of Kafka's biography by Reiner Stach. German and French news agencies have been trying to photograph Hava Hoffe and speak to her, but thus far they have not managed to do so. Other media outlets, which do not have local crews in Israel, have also tried to locate Hoffe or people close to her, to no avail.
This week, the German radio station NDR sent its representative Natascha Freundel to Tel Aviv cover the way the authorities in Israel will deal with the rare archival materials.
"Kafka is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century and at a time when new biographies him are appearing currently, it is important to obtain more information about the intellectual environment in which he lived in Prague, material that is almost certainly in Brod's archive in Tel Aviv," she says in a conversation in a cafe in Berlin. "Brod conducted extensive correspondence with the literati in Europe from the 1930s to the 1960s, during the period he was living in Tel Aviv, and this material is definitely still in Hoffe's apartment."
Freundel believes "it is fitting Kafka's material be transferred to the German Literary Archive in Marbach, though not for nationalist reasons but rather because more of Kafka's and Brod's manuscripts are in the archive, and there it will be preserved in the best way. It is best that all of the material be concentrated in one orderly place and that it not be scattered in different countries and archives." She says, "Kafka wrote in German and dreamed of living in Berlin."
Professor Shimon Sandbank, who has translated some of Kafka's most important writings into Hebrew (among them "The Description of a Struggle," "The Castle" and "The Blue Octavo Notebooks," which were published by the Schocken Publishing House) expressed a similar opinion on Wednesday. "Israel's part in Kafka's life is not central enough for us to insist that what remains of his estate be preserved in Israel," said Sandbank in a conversation with Haaretz. "Things that are much more Israeli, like Yehuda Amichai's estate, have already gone abroad, so it doesn't seem to me that there is any reason to keep a few small Kafka items here by force. We don't need to compel researchers who go to Marbach to take a side-trip to Israel only in order to fill in a few small lacunae in the estate, and it is more appropriate and correct to concentrate all the manuscripts in the German archive."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now