National Library: Kafka Writings Belong in Israel

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The National Library of Israel rejects the notion that it and the government have joined with Haaretz to keep Franz Kafka's manuscripts here instead of in Germany, the library's academic director told the paper over the weekend.

Haggai Ben-Shammai notes that Max Brod, Kafka's lifelong friend, was Jewish, Israeli and a Zionist - so Brod's estate containing Kafka manuscripts must remain in Israel, Ben-Shammai says.

Franz KafkaCredit: Archive

The library and the German Literature Archive have been battling in Tel Aviv family court after the two Israeli daughters of Brod's secretary, Esther Hoffe, came into possession of the literary estates of both Brod and Kafka.

In Haaretz's Friday edition, the German Literature Archive questioned what it considers the recruitment of the paper to the cause of the Hoffe estate. It suggested the possibility that "certain items in Max Brod's diary that are linked to the Schocken family constitute an interest in [their] getting their hands on his estate."

The Schocken family holds a majority stake in the newspaper.

The German Literature Archive, based in Marbach, Germany, contends that Brod and Kafka - both Jewish - were part of the German cultural sphere and that Brod wanted his estate to go to Germany upon his death.

The National Library of Israel, Ben-Shammai says, is working to obtain Brod's estate by virtue of its mission to obtain and preserve treasures, especially those linked to Israel and the Jewish people.

"That's particularly the case regarding Jewish cultural treasures that are in Israel and have a strong and proven link to Jewish culture. When Brod's life and Kafka's heritage that he was protecting were endangered, he chose to come to the Land of Israel," Ben-Shammai said, referring to Brod's escape after the Nazis' entry into Prague in 1939. "And from a young age he described himself as a Zionist and was active in the Zionist movement and in furthering Jewish culture in Prague."

Brod's will, which is at the center of the controversy with the Marbach institution, designated four possible recipients of his literary estate, the first three of which were in Israel.

"That's crystal-clear evidence that he viewed this country, where he lived for 29 years until the day of his death, as the proper cultural context in which his heritage should be preserved," Ben-Shammai said.

He also cites Kafka's notebooks in the library's collection - notebooks in which Kafka practiced Hebrew. These artifacts are evidence of the steps Kafka was taking to prepare to move here, the library says.

Kafka, whose native language was German and wrote in German, died in 1924 while seeking treatment in Austria.

Ben-Shammai rejects the Marbach archive's emphasis on the fact that Brod, like Kafka, wrote in German. He says Diaspora Jews wrote in various languages but this does not detract from their primary connection to Jewish culture.