90 years later, public allowed access to Kafka, Brod
Court rules historic collection penned by Franz Kafka, Max Brod to be transferred to national museum.
Franz Kafka Photo: Courtesy
A collection of works written by Franz Kafka and Max Brod will be transferred to
the Israel National Library Museum 90 years after Kafka’s death and after four
years of litigation – according to a Tel Aviv Family Court decision issued on
The court decision ended 90 years of controversy and multiple
transfers of the works before they are to be finally become entrusted to a
The National Library Museum’s victory came in the
face of protests by two women, third in the line to inherit Kafka’s works, who
alternatively may have wanted to profit from selling the works, keep them for
their sentimental value or donate them to another museum, such as the Museum of
Modern Literature in Marbach, Germany.
The works were originally given to
Kafka’s longtime friend, Brod, a famous author in his own right, and whose works
are also part of the collection that is to be transferred.
the works to Brod, but with the instruction to burn them all without even
While posthumously Kafka became one of the most recognized
writers of the 20th century, during his lifetime he was extremely insecure and
believed his work would not be well received.
The first controversy in
this saga was Brod’s decision to reject Kafka’s sole request by publishing
Kafka’s works en masse.
Brod justified his actions, saying respecting
Kafka’s request to have his works burned would have been a “criminal act,” as
the works had immeasurable ethical, philosophical and other value and were among
Kafka’s best works.
He added that when Kafka had made the request while
still living, Brod had told him that he would not honor the request. If Kafka
had really wanted his works burned, knowing his colleague’s stance on the issue,
“he would have appointed another to carry out his will,” Brod
Finally, Brod noted that Kafka had self-published a small number of
his own works.
Brod died childless in 1968, leaving the collection to the
next in line in the chain of inheritors, his secretary Esther Hoffe, with
instructions that she eventually donate the collection to a public institution,
if not in life, then immediately after her death.
Brod noted the Israel
National Library Museum at the top of his list of public institutions, but left
the final decision of where to donate the works to Hoffe.
In the early
1970s, the state fought Hoffe for years, trying to obtain the works for use by
the general public. The state also tried to prevent Hoffe from selling any of
Hoffe won in court. She was granted substantial rights to sell
or do with the collection as she wished during her lifetime, while essentially
upholding the state’s claim that as soon as she died the works would need to be
donated to a public institution.
Hoffe never donated the works, and in
1988 even sold an original copy of the The Trial for $2 million.
Hoffe died in 2007, she passed the works on to their final inheritors, her
daughters Ava Hoffe and Anita Ruth Vizler, who fought the National Library
Museum’s attempts to obtain them.
The central aspect of the legal
controversy was Ava Hoffe and Vizler’s claim that a 1952 letter from Brod to
Hoffe and various will-related legal documents of Esther Hoffe’s later granted
them absolute rights to the Kafka and various other aspects of the collection,
with no obligation to donate the works to a public institution.
ultimately held that the 1952 letter did not grant Hoffe the absolute rights
that her daughters claimed.
In fact, Brod’s “gift” to Hoffe was limited
by a series of wills, other letters and other portions of the same 1952 letter,
whose content and length was in dispute.
Since Brod’s gift was limited,
his ultimate request of having the collection donated to a public institution,
at the latest after Hoffe’s death, was the decisive factor.
result of the case will not merely be the transfer of the works to the National
Library Museum, but the fact that there will be access to them for the first
time, since Ava Hoffe and Vizler allegedly kept many of the works in safety
deposit boxes, providing no manner of public access.
Kafka and Brod were
additionally noteworthy as both were Jewish and, according to many historians,
eventually Zionist, with Brod even moving to Israel in 1939 and spending the
last years of his life living in Tel Aviv.