kafka - Archive - February 7 2011
Franz Kafka Photo by Archive
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David Bachar
Esther Hoffe Photo by David Bachar

A comprehensive report on the contents of 10 safety deposit boxes in Tel Aviv and Zurich brought the three-year Israeli court case concerning the literary estates of Franz Kafka and Max Brod into its final stage last week.

The executors of the estates delivered the report in Ramat Gan, which included explicit details about the writers’ manuscripts in the safes − which were the property of Brod’s secretary, the late Esther Hoffe, and were opened last summer by court order.

The publication of the safes’ contents is the most important stage in the legal proceedings, after which Judge Talia Pardo Kupelman will decide the fate of the manuscripts. Will they remain the private property of Esther Hoffe’s daughter Eva? Will they be handed over or sold to the National Library in Jerusalem or the German Literature Archive in Marbach? Or will they be publicly auctioned to the highest bidder?

A look at the report reveals that some of the safety deposit boxes contain short stories, letters and original drawings by Kafka. Most of the material has already been published, but because of the large number of documents found in the safes, it is still too early to determine whether or not they include unpublished writings. Either way, the manuscripts are of importance to collectors and researchers, and their value is likely to reach hundreds of thousands of shekels.

The most important Kafka manuscript noted in the report is that of his story “Wedding Preparations in the Country.” There are also aphorisms, a Hebrew exercise notebook in Kafka’s handwriting, letters exchanged between Kafka and Brod, and letters from Kafka’s father and mother.

Another item of additional importance is Max Brod’s personal diary, which has never been published and is likely to shed light on Kafka, who was Brod’s closest friend. There are also a number of Brod’s own novels, plays and musical works.

Documents that may help solve disputes about who owns the material were found as well.

Many manuscripts mentioned in the report are already missing from the safe deposit boxes. Some were transferred to a library in Oxford, England in the 1950s; others, including the manuscript of Kafka’s novel “The Trial,” were sold to the German archive; and still others were sold at auctions to individual buyers.

The report, whose publication follows many months of hard work, was filed by the executors of Brod’s and Hoffe’s estates: attorney Shmulik Cassouto and, acting as his legal representative, attorney Dan Novhari of the Cassouto-Noff office; attorneys Ehud Sol and Rami Hadar, and acting as their legal representatives, Yossi Ashkenazi and Dan Zimmerman.

During the first stage, Cassouto and Novhari made considerable efforts to obtain the keys to the safety deposit boxes, which were held by Eva Hoffe, who tried to avoid turning them over.

Complicated negotiations were then conducted with the Swiss bank about the conditions under which the safes would be opened.

In the end, starting last July, the boxes were opened in the presence of German manuscript and literary experts. Since that time, the attorneys have been busy recording and categorizing the thousands of documents held in the safes.

Novhari confirmed to Haaretz that the report has been distributed to the court and both sides involved in the case, adding that “these matters have yet to be considered in court, and it may be assumed that the road will be long.”

Eva Hoffe’s attorney Uri Zfat said he will have to study the material.

According to Vered Yerushalmi, the National Library’s public relations advisor, “The National Library sees great importance in the disclosure of the many items found in the safe deposit boxes, and hopes that following their disclosure, Max Brod’s desire to have the materials accessible to a large audience in a public Israeli archive will be realized.”