Two sisters from Tel Aviv, now in their 80s, were given Franz Kafka's manuscripts by their mother, who received them as a gift from Kafka's good friend Max Brod, according to a report submitted to the court yesterday by the executor of the estate of the mother, Esther Hoffe.
Hoffe was Brod's secretary and close friend for decades.
If the court confirms this report is accurate, then the other parties in the case, the State of Israel and the National Library, will have to prove why Eva Hoffe and her sister Ruti Wisler should give them Kafka's documents.
"In at least two cases, the late Esther Hoffe received as a gift from Max Brod manuscripts and letters from Franz Kafka, as well as documents belonging to Brod related to Kafka," the executor of the estate, Shmuel Casuto and his representative, attorney Dan Novhari, wrote the Tel Aviv Family Court.
The documents presented to the court include two letters Brod sent to Hoffe in 1947 and 1952, in which he clearly states he is giving her the Kafka manuscripts as a gift, and describes their contents. They include journals, pictures, letters and handwritten notes by and about Kafka, along with manuscripts of some of his famous short stories, including "A Country Doctor," "Wedding Preparations in the Country," "A Dream," and "Letter to his Father." The manuscripts are estimated to be worth several hundred thousand dollars.
At least one of these stories, "Wedding Preparations in the Country," has never been published in Kafka's own hand, and is considered very valuable to literary researchers.
Kafka died in 1924, 15 years before his good friend Max Brod moved to Israel and met Esther Hoffe. In his will, Kafka instructed Brod to burn his manuscripts and not to publish them. Brod, however, made it his life's work to compile, edit and publish the writings, transforming his friend into one of the most important authors of the 20th century.
In 1970, Hoffe gave the manuscripts to her daughters.
The executors' report reveals that the sisters sold the manuscripts to private collectors and archives the world over for millions of dollars, and they shared these profits with their mother.
The extension the court gave the parties to reach a compromise ends this week, after which the safety depost boxes containing the papers will be opened.
The sisters' lawyer, Oded Hacohen, yesterday told the court that opening the boxes damages his clients' privacy and impairs their ability to sell the works in the future.
The German Literature Archives in Marbach, Germany also submitted its opposition to opening the boxes, which it said would damage them and reduce its interest in purchasing them.
Attorney Meir Heller, representing the National Library, said: "The timing of the documents, supposedly a report, is not coincidental. It is aimed at assisting those who oppose opening the safety deposit box and preventing its contents from being discovered. This is an attempt to conceal the truth behind the claim that Kafka's writings were 'gifted' and the details of Brod's true will."
Nurit Pagi, who is writing a Ph.D. on Brod at the University of Haifa, said it was inconceivable that Brod would have given the manuscripts to his secretary.
"All his life Brod could not part with the writings, which for him were a message to all of humanity. Is it possible, considering his wish to continue handling the Kafka manuscripts to his dying day, that he gave them to Esther Hoffe 20 years before he died, for her to sell them to the highest bidder?" Pagi said.
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