Israel Police Probing Possible Theft of Kafka Papers

Police consult experts from the National Library in Jerusalem, in order to determine whether stolen manuscripts are authentic.

The Israeli police unit that investigates major international crimes is looking into whether invaluable German manuscripts of author Franz Kafka were stolen from the home of Eva Hoffe, or from somewhere else, Haaretz has learned. Hoffe is the daughter of Esther Hoffe, the secretary of Kafka friend and publisher Max Brod.

Police found the stolen manuscripts about a month ago. They consulted with experts from the National Library in Jerusalem, in order to determine whether they were authentic. Police asked the library for Kafka manuscripts that it possesses, so that the found goods can be compared to them. The National Library's collection includes rare Kafka manuscripts, which are secured in a safe.

Franz Kafka

The police investigation is being conducted in tandem with a family court proceeding surrounding the question of who owns Brod's estate. Brod collected Kafka's manuscripts after his death in 1924, and edited and published them, thus making Kafka one of the most important writers of the 20th century. After the Nazi invasion of Prague, Brod fled to Palestine, bringing the manuscripts with him. Before his death in 1968, he bequeathed the manuscripts 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.

The police also conferred with attorney Meir Heller, who represents the National Library in the case pertaining to ownership of the Brod bequest. They are seeking information about Eva Hoffe's complaints, filed two years ago, that her central Tel Aviv home had been broken into three times, and that items were allegedly stolen from her private archive. Hoffe said books, letters and other writings her mother inherited from Brod were taken, but she admitted that she was not sure exactly what documents were missing. Her attorney, however, insisted that the stolen items were "unimportant."

Hoffe blamed the media for publicizing the tale of the Kafka papers, thereby leading to the break-ins. "The media reports created the idea that there are treasures worth millions of dollars in my house," she declared. "I've become the target of mysterious elements who are sent by professional criminals. She reported that the first intruder broke bars outside her apartment's windows, and wore gloves; he fled when she started to shout. The second intruder, Hoffe claimed, broke the lock of her door, and threw papers and documents onto the floor; the third criminal took some documents from her archive, Hoffe declared.

Following Hoffe's complaints, the National Library appealed to authorities to immediately collect the Kafka manuscripts left in Hoffe's apartment, so that they can remain safe.

It is unclear precisely what, from Brod's estate, Hoffe has in her possession. Other parts of the estate, held in ten vaults in banks in Tel Aviv and Zurich, have already been assessed by court representatives. They include thousands of manuscripts written by Kafka, Brod and other noted literati. The fate of Hoffe's collection will be determined soon by the court.

Police said they had opened a case into the thefts after Hoffe filed her complaints, but there has been no police report since about the status of the investigation.

Police and Hoffe's lawyers did not respond on Tuesday to Haaretz inquiries about the matter.

The National Library said, "The National Library, which works for the collection and preservation of Jewish and Israeli cultural assets, is working for the realization of Brod's will, so that his estate will come to the library, and the manuscripts will be kept in a secure, public place. This [latest theft] proves once again how important it is that the estate not be kept in private hands, but in the library, which will also ensure that researchers and the public can access them."