Prague-born Jewish novelist’s literary estate, including exercise book in which he practiced Hebrew, had been held by his sisters until Israel’s National Library won the ownership battle
The National Library of Israel said on Wednesday it received the last part of a collection of Franz Kafka’s writings that it planned to put on line, after winning an ownership battle for part of the Prague-born Jewish novelist’s literary estate.
The papers had been held by sisters Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler, who argued they had legally inherited them from their mother, Esther Hoffe. She was secretary to Kafka’s friend, biographer and executor Max Brod, who ignored the German-language author’s dying wish to burn all his unpublished work.
In one of his notebooks — revealed to the public for the first time in Jerusalem on Wednesday — he sketched a man lying in bed, perhaps depicting his own terminal illness and auguring the end. The drawing was a fitting, if grim, coda to a yearslong, labyrinthine legal battle over the author’s legacy nearly a century after his untimely death.
Stefan Litt, the library’s curator of humanities, said the collection also included drawings. “Parts of them are known, others aren’t so – that’s maybe one of the most important things,” he said.
The notebook and materials arrived recently at the National Library of Israel from Zurich, where they had been held in safe deposit boxes.
As he battled with tuberculosis in an Austrian sanatorium, Kafka, a German-speaking Jew from Prague, asked his close friend Max Brod to destroy all his letters and writings.
After Kafka’s death, in 1924, Brod, also Jewish, felt he could not carry out his friend’s wishes and in 1939 fled Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia for Tel Aviv, carrying the writer’s papers in a suitcase.
Brod published many of the works and played a key role in establishing Kafka’s success as a key literary figure of the 20th century.
The Kafka papers are due to be digitized, and construction is underway for a larger building to house the library’s treasures, he said, adding that the intention is to make the archive accessible “for the good of the public in Israel and abroad.”