Bidding War Erupts Over Kafka's Tel Aviv Legacy

Remnants of writers's estate found in T.A. apartment that belonged to his friend's secretary.

"I'll persistently demand that no material connected to Franz Kafka leaves the State of Israel," the state archivist, Dr. Yehoshua Freundlich, told Haaretz on Wednesday following the July 7 report ("Uncovering an old leaf") in the Gallery section that parts of the writer's legacy are in Israel. German parties have over the past few days expressed great interest in receiving the material, and estimated that it contains an original manuscript of one of Kafka's stories along with his illustrations, as well as letters from his close friend, the writer Max Brod.

As reported in Gallery, remnants of Kafka's estate can be found in a small apartment in the heart of Tel Aviv that belonged to Brod's secretary, Esther Hoffe. Last year, Hoffe died and the material was inherited by her two daughters, who are now are considering selling it. The story of the lost estate has been covered widely in the international media, and as a result the Archive of German Literature in Marbach, which possesses a selection of Kafka's letters, is now seeking to obtain the fragments of material from Israel.

The state archivist says in response, "no material that is of importance to the history of the Jewish people will leave the State of Israel... We will not permit the materials' removal without fulfilling the law."

The archivist was referring to the Archives Law, which stipulates that no material of importance is to be taken outside state borders without first allowing for it to be inspected and photocopied. The archivist mentioned that "the last time Mrs. Hoffe tried to remove the material, my predecessor stood at the airport and prevented this from happening."

He was referring to Esther Hoffe's arrest at Ben Gurion Airport by State Archive officials in 1974, after she tried to smuggle to Switzerland some of the material in her possession.

Director of the manuscripts department at the German archives, Ulrich von Bilov, estimates that the Tel Aviv apartment contains a literary treasure trove: an original manuscript of "Hochzeitsvorbereitnung auf dem Lande," which Kafka wrote from 1907 to 1908. It consists of three folios that were never completed, describing the journey of an engaged rabbi to meet his intended bride. After Kafka's death, Brod published the unfinished work and claimed that Kafka had planned to publish it as a novel.

The archive in Marbach, which is the largest private archive in Germany, has many Kafka manuscripts including one of the novel "The Trial," which Esther Hoffe sold in 1988 for $2 million. In addition, the archive possesses letters Kafka wrote to his friend Milena, and the famous letter to his father (for a which a new Hebrew translation by Ilana Hammerman was published about a year ago in the anthology Hayonah Al Hagag). "We hope to find in the estate items that were until now unknown," added Von Bilov in an interview with a German radio station.

In addition, the archive hopes to find letters from Brod himself that may have research and literary value even without a connection to Kafka. Among others, Von Bilov estimates that the estate contains correspondence between Brod and important writers who were his contemporaries, such as Stephen Zweig and Arthur Schnitzler. "We think there is a strong connection between these materials and our archive," he added, "and hope that Esther Hoffe's daughters, who know us, will remember this at the appropriate time."

In the meantime, the material remains in the Tel Aviv apartment, and the whole world is awaiting the decision of Esther Hoffe's daughters regarding the estate's future. The fact that it is located in a private apartment does not enable the state archivist to remove the material by force, but only to prevent it from being taken out of the country. "We have a problem. I am not a policeman and I cannot enter people's apartments," Freundlich said on Wednesday.

Another person expressing considerable interest in the material in Kafka's estate is German publisher Klaus Wagenbach, who was very close to Brod and published several important books about Kafka. Wagenbach, who was one of the few people privileged to look through the estate in Israel in the 1950s, estimates that it still has illustrations and sketches by Kafka, in addition to letters sent to him by Brod and the correspondence between Brod and others, including newspaper editors from around the world. The estate also includes an illustration drawn by Kafka in the early part of the previous century, when he was a law student at the German university in Prague.

In an interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Wagenbach estimated that the remaining material would be auctioned or transferred to archives in the near future. Wagenbach also said that even when he visited Brod in Tel Aviv back in 1955, he realized that Esther Hoffe zealously guarded the valuable material in her possession. He confirmed that after Brod's death, Hoffe sold most of the important items from Kafka's estate, earning a fortune which she and her daughters lived off. However, he too notes that the Tel Aviv apartment still contains material relating to Kafka and Brod. "He had to let me look at the material in secret, for fear that Esther would find out. She didn't allow him to take the material out," Wagenbach recalled.

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