Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka.
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Manuscripts by Franz Kafka that have recently been discovered in safe deposit boxes in Tel Aviv and Zurich have put Kafka aficionados on tenterhooks worldwide.The manuscripts include correspondence between Kafka and important authors, as well as notebooks in Kafka's handwriting. One of the notebooks was used by Kafka to practice the Hebrew he was studying. There is also correspondence between authors and Max Brod, Kafka's close friend and executor.

A number of experts and jurists involved in the case believe that at least some of the manuscripts have not been published before and were hidden in safe deposit boxes for decades.

One expert suggested that the manuscripts were deliberately stashed away to raise their value in a future sale.

Sources familiar with the trial over Kafka's estate told Haaretz yesterday they were surprised by the large amount of manuscripts discovered in the safe deposit boxes.

"Without knowing Kafka and Brod, the huge amount of documents gives the impression that they were graphomaniacs," a source said, referring to an obsessive impulse to write.

Among the papers found in the sealed boxes were letters to or from Stefan Zweig, the Jewish Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist and biographer, and Israeli writer and poet Shin Shalom.

Meanwhile, the court-appointed lawyers and experts have prepared a preliminary list of the items found in the safe deposit boxes but have not yet examined them thoroughly.

After Brod's death in 1968, his close friend and secretary Esther Hoffe took over his estate. But while Brod willed his estate to a public archive, Hoffe did not fulfill his wish. Three years ago she died at the age of 102, leaving the estate to her daughters.

Since then the trial on the estate's owners has been conducted in the Tel Aviv District Family Court. Esther Hoffe's estate executors are Shmuel Cassuto, Dan Novhari, Rami Hadar and Dan Zimerman. Brod's executors are Ehud Sol and Yossi Ashkenazi. Eva Hoffe (Esther's daughter ) is represented by attorneys Oded Hacohen, Uri Zfat and Hila Etsioni. They have been accompanied by experts in German literary manuscripts and manuscript preservation.

Only after the court rules to whom the manuscripts belong will the literary-manuscript experts be allowed to examine the documents closely and determine their research value and whether they yield new information about Kakfa and Brod's lives.

The manuscripts were initially held by Brod, who collected them after Kafka's death in 1924. Brod fled from the Nazis in 1939, in the last train out of Prague, his hometown. He arrived in Israel by boat carrying a suitcase with Kafka's manuscripts and settled in Tel Aviv.

Some of the manuscripts have been published over the years, others were sold to archives all over the world and some were left in safe deposit boxes in Israel.

In 1956 some of the documents were taken from Tel Aviv to Zurich for fear for their safety during the Sinai Campaign.