Stolen letters from Kafka confidant handed over to National Library of Israel

Thousands of documents belonging to Max Brod transferred to Israeli ownership.

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May 22, 2019 12:00
2 minute read.
Transfer of stolen Brod papers

Transfer of stolen Brod papers . (photo credit: BOAZ ARAD)

 
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Thousands of papers stolen from Max Brod, a confidant of Franz Kafka, were handed over to Israeli officials at a meeting in Berlin on Tuesday. 


The documents include drafts of plays, diaries, letters and manuscripts belonging to Brod, the man responsible for publishing the bulk of Kafka's work after his death. The collection also includes a 1910 postcard to Brod signed by Kafka himself.
The papers were turned over to the chairman and CEO of the National Library of Israel by the German police, who seized the collection after realizing it was stolen. Police were first alerted in 2013, when the trove of documents were offered for sale to several buyers in Germany. It became clear to police that the papers had been stolen from the Tel Aviv apartment of Brod's late secretary, Esther Hoffe.


The handover took place on Tuesday evening at the residence of Israeli Ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff. 


"We are pleased that even after so much time has passed since these papers were stolen, there is now some closure and they will be coming to the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, in accordance with Max Brod's wishes," said David Blumberg, chairman of the National Library of Israel, in a statement Tuesday. "Brod was a prolific writer, composer, and playwright and his personal papers will now fittingly join the hundreds of personal archives held among the National Library collection, including a number belonging to figures from the famed 'Prague Circle', of which Brod and Kafka were members."


The National Library sees itself as the rightful home for the collections of Kafka and Brod, and has fought several legal battles over collections belonging to the men. Kafka left all of his work to Brod after his death in 1924; Hoffe died in 2007, leaving what remained of the collection to her daughters. But the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that all documents belonging to the Kafka estate should be turned over to the National Library of Israel. Court battles in Israel, Switzerland and Germany have waged for more than a decade over the rightful home of materials belonging to both Kafka and Brod. Brod, who died in 1968 in Israel, instructed Hoffe in his will to ensure his estate be preserved at Jerusalem’s National Library, or the Tel Aviv Municipal Library, or any other public archive in Israel or abroad - leaving room for interpretation, and frustrating Israeli archivists.


The latest acquisition by the National Library is the most recent in a series of wins for the institution, which hopes to soon unite all of Kafka and Brod's writings under its roof. 


"Receiving these documents today from the German authorities is clearly an act of historical justice given that the papers stolen from Max Brod's archive are now transferred back to the National Library of Israel," said Issacharoff, according to the library. "The event this evening demonstrates that the cultural realm continues to be an important and expanding area in the relations between our two peoples. I feel certain that the return of these documents to Israel and the National Library is yet another symbolic act that will further strengthen and deepen the cultural relations between Israel and Germany."


Reuters contributed to this report. 

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