Keys to Kafka's Tel Aviv Safe Handed to Estate Executor

Representatives for novelist Max Brod will get a first look at the cache in the coming weeks.

BERLIN - The court-appointed executor of the estate of German-language novelist and essayist Max Brod has won a long legal battle for possession of the keys to five safe-deposit boxes holding Brod's manuscripts as well as part of the estate of Franz Kafka. Brod was Kafka's friend and literary executor.

The executor and his representative, who received the keys last week, are expected to get a first look at the cache within the next few weeks or months. When the contents are brought to light for the first time in 41 years, the world will discover whether the vaults contain any original Kafka manuscripts.

However, Haaretz has learned that there is also a sixth safe-deposit box, located at a Discount Bank branch in Tel Aviv, whose keys have not been handed over.

After Kafka's death, Brod - a Prague-born writer who moved to Israel in 1939 to escape the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia - edited some major works by the artist, who some consider the best novelist of the 20th century. Brod's estate included the original manuscript of Kafka's "The Trial." But Brod's personal secretary, Esther Hoffe, who controlled his estate until her death in 2007 at age 102, sold the manuscript to Germany for approximately $2 million. (The Israel National Library is now demanding that Germany return it.)

It's not clear what the safe-deposit boxes contain, but researchers expect to find many of Brod's manuscripts and letters - as well as documents such as Brod's diaries and letters to Brod from Dora Diamant, Kafka's last love, which could disclose details about Kafka's life. The cache might also include manuscripts, letters or sketches by Kafka himself.

A month ago, the Tel Aviv Family Court named Shmulik Cassouto, a senior partner at the Cassouto-Noff law firm in Tel Aviv, as the latest executor of the Brod estate. Cassouto is being represented on the matter by Dan Novhari, an attorney at the firm. Cassouto was appointed after several others had failed to gain hold of the keys from Jeshayah Etgar. Etgar represents Hoffe's daughter Eva Hoffe who, along with her sister Ruth Wisler, was left the estate. Their mother, Esther Hoffe, had long refused to reveal the contents of the estate, despite repeated requests from archivists, researchers and academics in Israel and abroad.

Cassouto and Novhari have been fighting an uphill battle. They say their efforts to get the keys were repeatedly hampered by Etgar, who up until the last moment refused to hand them over, in contravention of a court order. Cassouto and Novhari filed a complaint with the court stating that Etgar told them he planned to "place obstacles, to the best of my ability" in the executor's path and charging that Etgar was evading a meeting with them.

Three days after the complaint was filed, Etgar did meet with Cassouto and Novhari and handed them the keys to three safe-deposit boxes at a Tel Aviv branch of Bank Leumi and to two boxes at a nearby branch of Discount Bank.