The former secretary of Jewish philosopher Martin Buber has entered the fray in the court battle over the fate of writer Franz Kafka's papers. Margot Cohen, 88, recently submitted a deposition to the Family Court in Ramat Gan, in which she claims that Max Brod, Kafka's friend, wanted to transfer the Czech Jewish writer's manuscripts to the National Library in Jerusalem.
The deposition reinforces the library's demand that Eva Hoffe, 75, who inherited the manuscripts, hand them over to the library rather than selling them to an archive in Germany, as she wants to do.
"Brod's intention was first and foremost to deposit the archive in the library in Jerusalem, where the archives of his close friends are located," writes Cohen in the deposition. In 1968, shortly before Brod's death, Cohen met him in the manuscripts and archives wing of the National Library.
"From my conversation with Brod it was entirely clear to me that he had already decided earlier to deposit his archive in the library. ... His visit to the department was meant to take care of the technical details involved in the proper handling of the archive," she said.
Cohen was born in Alsace on the German-French border and immigrated to Israel in 1952. At first she served as Buber's secretary and after his death in 1965 she worked in the National Library in Jerusalem. Since her retirement in 1987 she has been a regular volunteer in the department.
"I remember well how we spoke between ourselves about the fact that bringing Brod's archive to the library would lead to a situation in which 'the friends from Prague will meet' - That was very important to Brod," wrote Cohen in the deposition, about her meeting with Brod. Those "friends from Prague" are Brod, Kafka, Buber and intellectuals Felix Weltsch and Hugo Bergmann, whose manuscripts had already been deposited in the library at the time.
Cohen also referred to the possibility of Kafka's and Brod's manuscripts being sold to Germany, and claimed that such a step would be opposed the wishes of Brod and Kafka, both of whom lost many family members in the Holocaust.
In the deposition she wrote that "Brod did not imagine that his archive would become a material asset. He writes that it should be 'given' and not 'sold.' He is talking about giving it to the archive without receiving anything in return."
Cohen testified that the idea of selling the archive "was clearly not acceptable either to Brod or to the intellectuals and artists who were the members of his generation and class."
Thirteen years after Brod's death, Cohen met at the apartment of his secretary, Esther Hoffe, to advance the transfer of his manuscripts to the National Library. "I was astonished to discover that there were piles of papers and files of documents in the apartment," she wrote of the 1982 meeting. "On almost every pile sat one of the many cats who wandered around the apartment. There was no place to sit and it was hard to breathe. My impression was that Mrs. Hoffe was not really interested in transferring the archive to the library, and in the end she didn't transfer the writings ... and didn't carry out what Brod wanted her to do."
Next week the court will discuss Cohen's deposition, in advance of a decision on the fate of the Kafka manuscripts.
Eva Hoffe has claimed throughout the trial that she inherited Brod's archive from her mother Esther, and that it is her private property and therefore she has a right to do whatever she likes with it, including selling it to Germany.
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