An Israeli court has awarded a unique collection of Franz Kafka manuscripts to the National Library of Israel, ending a legal dispute that lasted for several decades.
The court ordered Eva Hoffe, a resident of Tel Aviv, to remit all of the Kafka manuscripts in her possession to the National Library of Israel.
Hoffe currently owns the Kafka manuscripts because of a complicated provenance line. When Kafka died in 1924, with much of his work still unpublished, he willed his manuscripts to his friend Max Brod. Brod was instructed by Kafka to burn the manuscripts after Kafka died, however Brod ignored his order and carried the manuscripts with him to Palestine in 1939 when he fled Nazi persecutions in Europe. On Brod’s death in 1968, he left the Kafka collection to his secretary Esther Hoffe, instructing her to “publish his work and ensure after her death that his literary estate be placed for safekeeping in a suitable institution.”
Esther Hoffe, however, instead considered offering the manuscripts for auction overseas in 1973, which drew the attention of the Israeli government. The government instructed Hoffe that she was was not to dispose of any documents, a move that prompted a decades-long legal battle that surpassed Hoffe’s own lifespan. When she died in 2007, she passed the Kafka manuscripts on to her two daughters, including Eva Hoffe. The pair of sisters began legal proceedings claiming the manuscripts were legally theirs in 2008, however one sister died in the intervening years and a court officially rejected the claim in 2012.
This week a Tel Aviv court upheld the ruling, denying an appeal from Eva, the surviving sister.
So, after a long and complicated legal battle – one could say a “Kafkaesque” legal battle – much of Kafka’s literary legacy will come to rest in the National Library of Israel. The library commented that they will eventually digitize the manuscripts, making them freely available online.
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Reprinted with permission from Fine Books & Collections, Nate Pedersen author