German Police Confiscate Kafka and Brod Manuscripts Suspected to Smuggled From Israel

Authorities suspect trove smuggled out of Israel by woman holding them privately who was ordered by court to hand them over to National Library.

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Franz Kafka’s Hebrew vocabulary notebook at Israel’s National Library in Jerusalem last year.
Franz Kafka’s Hebrew vocabulary notebook at Israel’s National Library in Jerusalem last year.Credit: AP

Police in Germany recently seized handwritten manuscripts of Max Brod, who was Franz Kafka’s friend and literary executor, suspecting they were smuggled out of Israel.

They are investigating suspicions that these documents are part of the literary estate of Brod and Kafka, which Tel Aviv District Court ruled two weeks ago must be handed over to Jerusalem's Israel National Library. The papers have been in the possession of Eva Hoffe.

Meir Heller, the attorney representing the National Library, went to Germany to examine the suspected documents.

“The matter is now being examined with Germany, to determine whether the materials belong to the Brod archive,” Oren Weinberg, the National Library's director, told Haaretz.

Hoffe, who lives in Tel Aviv, and her sister Ruth Wiesler, who died in 2012, held the vast collection of rare documents for decades. They inherited it from their mother, Esther Hoffe, who had been Brod’s secretary.

Attorney Joseph (Yossi) Ashkenazi, who represents the director of Brod’s estate, told Haaretz that Ehud Sol, the attorney who manages the literary estate, only learned about the matter in the past few days, is investigating it and will respond as needed, including taking legal action to ensure these materials return to Israel in accordance with the court’s ruling.

A three-judge panel ruled June 29 that the Brod literary estate, which includes Kafka’s papers too, must be transferred to the National Library. The judges rejected Hoffe’s appeal of a Tel Aviv Family Court ruling from October 2012 ordering her to hand over all the materials to the National Library, ruling they had held the collection illegally. The judges harshly criticized her actions throughout the long, drawn out case. The judges said Esther Hoffe had caused “outrageous injustice because of the manner in which the literary estate was managed.” In addition, the justices severely criticized the Hoffe family for having auctioned off some of Kafka’s manuscripts, and planning to continue selling the papers to the German Literature Archive in Marbach, Germany.

Among the documents the police confiscated in Germany was one of Brod’s unpublished diaries, which may shed light on Kafka's life, at least one in which Kafka was involved in its writing and others in Brod’s handwriting.

It is still not clear how, when and from where these manuscripts reached Germany, but it is also possible they are connected to an “alleged” break-in of Hoffe’s apartment she reported in 2011, in which she says parts of the estate were stolen.

Kafka, born in Prague in 1883, is considered one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. After he died in 1924, his friend Max Brod collected, edited and published his works - despite Kafka’s own instructions in his will ordering the manuscripts to be destroyed.

In 1939, when the Nazis invaded Prague, Brod escaped to Israel along with the manuscripts. When he died in 1968, Esther Hoffe acquired his and Kafka's manuscripts.

Even though Brod asked in his will that the manuscripts be given to a public archive, Hoffe auctioned some of them abroad for a great deal of money. Many of them eventually made it to the Marbach archive. Hoffe kept the rest, tens of thousands of pages, in ten safety deposit boxes as well as in her apartment, and the details of their contents have never been provided to the National Library or the court, despite judges' orders.

In 2007, Esther Hoffe died and bequeathed her estate to her daughters, after which Hoffe and Wiesler wanted to sell it in Germany. The present case started in 2007.

“Kafka did not know [Esther] Hoffe, never spoke with her and never met her,” wrote the judges in ordering her to hand over the manuscripts. “She was not close to him. There was no familial relationship." The judges said the only connection between Kafka and Hoffe was that Kafka’s writings made their way in a twisted fashion into her hands.

The manuscripts include Brod’s personal diary, which may shed light on Kafka’s life. In addition, the safes also contain notebooks filled with Kafka’s writings, including Hebrew study exercises, and correspondences Kafka and Brod kept with other notable writers, including Stefan Zweig and Shin Shalom.

Eli Zohar, the lawyer representing the Hoffe family since 2012, said his firm has no information on what has happened to the estate, including any sales that may have been conducted.

The German Federal Police did not respond to a request from Haaretz.