Court Rules for Hoffe Sisters in Kafka-Brod Inheritance Case

The Tel Aviv District Court grants sisters money bequeathed by their mother; decision still pending regarding Kafka's literary estate.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Eva Hoffe, who is at the center of legal proceedings relating to the estate of the renowned Czech writer, Franz Kafka, earned a first victory in the complicated trial that has been going on for over three years. The Tel Aviv District Court recently instructed that the money bequeathed to her and her sister by their mother, who was the secretary of Max Brod - a close friend of Kafka's and the publisher of his works - be transferred to them. The inheritance money is not considered part of Kafka's literary estate, whose fate still awaits a court decision.

In the first stage, the two sisters, both aged around 80, will receive a sum of NIS 2 million in cash, to be divided equally between them. Later on, pursuant to court approval, they are to receive property and an additional sum from the estate, estimated at around NIS 1 million.

Franz Kafka

In a conversation with Haaretz, attorney Uri Tzfat, one of Hoffe's representatives, welcomed the decision of Judge Judith Stoffman. Still, he argued that it was necessary to transfer a larger sum of money to the sisters immediately.

The managers of the Hoffe estate, Shmulik Cassouto of the Cassouto-Nof law firm, and attorney Rami Hadar, announced - via attorney Dan Novhari - that the transfer of the money to the sisters has already begun.

"We are now working to distribute the funds to the heirs and to execute the portion of the will which does not relate to the literary estate," said Novhari.

According to Novhari, the remaining money will be distributed in accordance with the court's decision and after various financial obligations and the estate's executors' fees are taken care of.

All along, Hoffe sought the immediate transfer of the money, claiming that it was hers and was not connected to the literary estate, and that she had no money to buy food and needed charity in order to survive and pay her bills.

At the outset, the attorney general and the National Library in Jerusalem - which is demanding receipt of Kafka's manuscripts - were opposed to these claims, arguing that the source of the money should be clarified and a determination made regarding any financial obligations Hoffe might have vis-a-vis Kafka's literary estate. Accordingly, the court refused until now to transfer the money to the Hoffe sisters.

However, now the district court has accepted the sisters' appeal and decided to transfer the money, which comes from German reparations.

The National Library said in response that it did not object to releasing funds originating in reparations from Germany, and that its sole concern is that "the intellectual treasures in the estate reach the public library and become accessible to the general public."

Indeed, discussion of the matter of principle regarding the fate of the manuscripts of Franz Kafka and his friend, Max Brod, is still going on in the Tel Aviv District Family Affairs Court. The concluding stage of the trial, which was to have begun long ago, was postponed until the end of this month and is expected to last a long time.

"It may even take two years," estimated attorney Tzfat. Only at the end, will Judge Talia Pardo determine the fate of the thousands of manuscripts locked in 10 safe-deposit boxes in banks in Tel Aviv and Zurich.

The sisters' mother, Esther Hoffe, was secretary to Max Brod, Kafka's close friend. After Kafka's death in 1924, Brod collected his manuscripts, and edited and published them, thus making Kafka one of the most important writers of the 20th century. Following the Nazi invasion of Prague, Brod fled to Palestine, bringing the manuscripts with him. Before his death in 1968, he bequeathed them to his secretary and asked her to transfer them to a public archive. However, Esther Hoffe sold parts of the estate and kept other parts in safe-deposit boxes and in her apartment. Four years ago, she passed away and bequeathed the estate to her daughters.

After the incident was reported in Haaretz, a trial opened involving representative of the custodian of abandoned property, the Hoffe sisters, the National Library and the German National Archive for Literature in Marbach, Germany. The sisters argued that the literary estate they inherited from their mother is their private property. At the same time, they began negotiating its sale to the large archive in Germany. The National Library opposes this and has argued that Brod had instructed in his will that the estate be transferred to Jerusalem.



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