Kafka
Illustration Photo by Ayala Tal
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When the Tel Aviv District Court convicted former President Moshe Katsav of rape last week, another court, not far away, was deliberating on the issue of another K. He was not accused of anything, but his manuscripts are at the center of ongoing legal proceedings. A few hours after the decision about Katsav, there was also a breakthrough in the trial of the other K.: Franz Kafka.

Coincidentally, one of Katsav's attorneys, Avigdor Feldman, recently joined the battery of lawyers involved in the Kafka case. Feldman, who himself is a big fan of Kafka's writings, is now representing Eva Hoffe, who inherited the manuscripts of the famous Czech writer. That brings to five the number of lawyers she has hired - including one who resigned in the middle and another who switched to representing her sister.

Forced to hear Katsav's conviction, Feldman was unable to attend the discussion about Kafka that was going on at the same time, and instead sent over his partner, attorney Ronen Cohen, who made his debut appearance in the case.

The case, which has kept the literary world abuzz since the existence of the cache of manuscripts was first reported in this paper, has been going on for almost three years. During last Thursday's proceedings it was discovered that secret negotiations are being conducted between Hoffe, the executors of her mother's estate and the executors of the estate of Kafka's good friend Max Brod - concerning the possibility of putting the manuscripts in Hoffe's possession up for sale.

The story, which began with Kafka's death in 1924, centers around Hoffe, now about 80 years old, who inherited from her mother Esther remnants of the estates of Kafka and Brod. Esther Hoffe is the person who more than 20 years ago sold the manuscript of "The Trial," Kafka's most important novel, to the German Literature Archive, in Marbach, Germany, for a record $2 million. Three years ago she died at the age of 101, and left the rest of the estate, which is probably worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, scattered in 10 bank vaults and in her home. Ever since then, her daughters, Eva Hoffe and her sister, who are trying to sell the manuscripts to Germany, have been fighting the Jewish National Library in Jerusalem, which claims that the manuscripts belong to it, over the question of ownership (and the right to sell the papers ).

Judge Talia Pardo Kupelman, who is presiding over the case in the Tel Aviv Family Court in Ramat Gan, decided to conduct the current proceedings far from the eyes of the media. Two years ago Kupelman accepted a petition by Haaretz and declared that the trial would no longer be held in camera. Last week, however, she changed her mind.

"Are there any journalists in the courtroom?" she asked out loud, before reconvening the attorneys in her chambers.

Haaretz has learned that the lawyers reported to the judge that they have been conducting secret negotiations, outside the courtroom, to sell all of Kafka's manuscripts in some sort of a tender. The judge said she would allow them to continue with these contacts, and asked them to present the details of any agreement to sell the works to her next month. Nevertheless, she complained about the fact that, according to the conditions of the proposed tender, "there isn't a single archive in Israel that could receive the papers."

The state's representative in the case, who is working on behalf of the custodian general, did not express opposition to Pardo Kupleman's decision. Haaretz has learned that the state prefers to wait until an agreement is handed over for the approval of the judge, and then to make its position known.

Two of the executors of the Esther Hoffe's estate, attorneys Shmulik Cassuto and Dan Novhari, confirmed to Haaretz that negotiations are taking place regarding the possibility of a compromise between the parties in the case, but refused to reveal any details. They say information regarding the outcome of the contacts will be given to the court.

"If we get an agreement, the material will be offered for sale as a single entity, in one package. It will be sold by weight," said Uri Zfat, one of Hoffe's attorneys, to Haaretz, and then he added, somewhat sarcastically: "They'll say: 'There's a kilogram of papers here, the highest bidder will be able to approach and see what's there.' The national library can get in line and make an offer, too."

The salary of Hoffe's attorneys and the court-appointed executors of the estate will be determined based on the sale price of the manuscripts.

"The library regards with concern the new position expressed by the executors, who want to mix financial considerations into the decision as to whom the estate will be given," said Oren Weinberg, director of the Jewish National Library. "Revealing the treasures, which have been hidden in vaults for decades, will serve the public interest, but the position of the executors is liable to undermine that measure, for reasons that will benefit neither Israel nor the world," he added.

On the other hand, attorney Feldman's firm said that Eva Hoffe will demand "recognition of the full and absolute right of ownership" for herself and her sister, "of the rest of the writings found in the vaults and in any other place, including those identified with Kafka." She is interested in transferring the manuscripts of Brod himself to an appropriate archive, which "will be committed to proper care of the estate and the publication of his writings."

For its part, the library in Jerusalem intends to present a historic document to the court soon which, it claims, proves that Brod requested that Kafka's manuscripts not be given to Eva Hoffe and her sister.

The document, which has been seen by Haaretz, is dated January 20, 1957. "To Esther Hoffe, My wish is that even if you die after me (a long time after me, I hope ), your daughters and heirs should not have anything to do with my literary estate," Brod wrote. Later he added: "The net return ... should be transferred to your daughters, but the right to be an heir must belong to someone who considers me to be a person of some significance."

Another document that the library is holding is Brod's earlier will, which was written in 1948. Although it has no legal validity, since a later will overturns it, it can attest to Brod's thinking.

"My request is that after I am gone ... my estate will be given to a Jewish public library or an archive in Palestine," he wrote there. In the later will, from 1961, Brod was more specific: "... But all the manuscripts, the letters, the papers and the other documents, will be handed over to the care of the library of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem or to the municipal library in Tel Aviv or to another public archive in Israel or abroad."

The national library is emphasizing Brod's request that his writings be donated rather than sold, as well as the fact that he specifically expressed a desire that they be located in Israel.

Next week the judge in Tel Aviv will be asked to approve the agreement now being formulated between the parties. Perhaps, the trial will finally come to an end. And then the entire world will also know what has lain hidden for decades in the bank vaults.