Where are the missing index cards?
Students and scholars of the theater have encountered a problem in recent years when they sought to study material penned by Max Brod during the 30 years in which he worked at Habima Theater. Dozens of index cards in his handwriting, which include remarks and criticism that he wrote in German about various plays, have disappeared into thin air. Now, on the 40th anniversary of his death, scholars are demanding to know what happened to this material and whether someone lost or discarded it.
"It took me two years of searching before I understood that the material had been totally destroyed," said Tali Raban Hecht of the theater arts department in Tel Aviv University, who sought to document Brod's activity as a dramaturge at Habima from 1939-1968 as part of her master's degree thesis. "All that is left is a few index cards, but even they are written in Hebrew, which raises a suspicion that it was not Brod himself who wrote them."
One story that has been making the rounds for years in the corridors of Tel Aviv's theater arts department tells of four trucks loaded with archival material that made their way out of the Habima building when the theater was renovated in 1970. Two of them, the legend continues, were traveling in the direction of the municipal dump.
There is nobody today who can confirm or deny the story, but as Raban Hecht said, it testifies to "the plague of the Israeli theater." She complained that "today, no importance is attributed to history. I'm afraid that Brod's material was discarded simply because he was always treated with a total lack of respect."
Until about 20 years ago, it was still possible to peruse at least some of the material written by Brod during his tenure as the theater's artistic director, material that was preserved in Habima's archive. Prof. Freddie Rokem, who was dean of Tel Aviv's Faculty of the Fine Arts in the 1980s, recalled that when he was looking for material for his study of biblical plays, he saw with his own eyes dozens of index cards at Habima that were written by Brod.
"Brod wrote comments of varying length about 154 plays that were submitted to Habima," he said. Rokem published his findings in the periodical Bama (Stage) in 1985.
But "when the next generation of researchers asked to look at the material, they discovered that it was no longer available," he said, adding that Habima must explain where the material went. "If it isn't a crime, it's more than a shame."
Habima spokesman Yaakov Hacohen said that because decades have passed since Brod worked in the theater, neither he nor the theater administration has any up-to-date information about the fate of the notes.
But the director of Habima's archive, Hanni Zeligson, insisted that "there are not and were not any such index cards." Zeligson, who has been working at the theater since the 1970s, today runs the archive diligently on a volunteer basis. "I don't know where he came up with this [idea]," she said of Rokem. "Maybe he's confused or saw them in another place, not here."
Material related to Brod and documents in his handwriting have wound up over the years in four places in Israel: the Habima archive, the Israel Documentary Center for the Performing Arts at Tel Aviv University, the Israel Goor Theater Archives and Museum at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the archive of Yehuda Gabai, which was transferred after his death to the Beit Ariella library in Tel Aviv.
Haaretz checked and found that the index cards written by Brod, as described by Rokem, are not to be found in any of these places. But in every place we visited, the employees, both junior and senior, told us that "the material was discarded."
Although the search for Brod's index cards came up with nothing, we discovered another original item among the piles of archival documents we examined: a letter in his handwriting that he sent from Prague to Tel Aviv in 1939, shortly before he fled to Israel from the Nazi threat. The letter, which has been preserved in the Beit Ariella library, will be published in full in the Rosh Hashanah issue of the Hebrew edition's culture and literature section.