The Kafkaesque Trials of the Brod Estate

A page from Kafka's 'In the Penal Colony'

Fascinating and disturbing at the same time: the fight for Max Brod’s  papers — which may come to a head next week when lawyers open the Tel Aviv and Zürich 4 bank safes containing the remaining papers of Franz Kafka and Max Brod. Max Brod — who moved to Israel in 1939, where he died in 1968 — had left the trove of ms. to his secretary & close companion Esther Hoffe, who died 3 years ago and who, in turn, left the papers to her daughters Eva and Ruth Hoffe.

For several years now a complex fight for these literary treasures has been going on, with on one side the Hoffe sisters who want to keep their inheritance under their control, and on the other a number of Israeli institutions, including the library of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the city library of Tel-Aviv and the Israel National Library, with the latter claiming  to be heir to Kakfa’s literary estate. Meir Heller, the lawyer of the Israel National library, has argued in court that the papers are a national cultural  treasure and that they have to be made accessible to the public — in Israel. To make things more complex, Eva Hoffe has imposed a gagging order on the press — an order being fought in court by the Israeli paper Haaretz.

But — so the Neue Züricher Zeitung — Haaretz, which is the only Israeli paper eagerly reporting on the affair, has more than just journalistic interests at heart: the paper belongs to Amos Schocken, the grandson of Kafka publisher Salman Schoken, who brought the Kafka archives to Switzerland in 1956.

Heller claims that there is a paragraph in Brod’s testament that would indicate that Brod intended the ms. to go to one or the other of the above named public institutions, a demand the Hoffe sisters are supposedly contravening. Heller wants to make sure that no further manuscripts get sold in other countries, for the sisters have already sold the handwritten ms. of “The Trial” to the literary archive in Marbach, Germany (which among many others stores the literary estates of Friedrich Schiller and Paul Celan) for 2 million dollars. Which brings both the Marbach archives and the Israeli National archives into the story and around the judge’s table.

As the NZZ reports, “since Israel is fighting the inheritance, access to any part of the estate — the Brod-archives, the Kafka manuscripts — but also to the cash and jewelry, has been barred to the Hoffe sisters.” In a further twist to the affair, last May Eva Hoffe reported a — in fact 3 — burglaries in her apartment, and that books, letters and musical scores that had belonged to Max Brod had been taken. As Haaretz reports, “The National Library’s attorney, Meir Heller, protested the unbearable ease with which important documents from Brod’s estate disappear, while the trial to determine their fate is still ongoing.”

So next week the 4 Zürich safes will be opened in the presence of Itta Shedletzky, an emerita Literary Porfessor who is a specialist in Brod/Kafka matters, and a number of those involved in the Trial, I mean the court affair. But Eva Hoffe is not ready to make public what the inventory of the papers will reveal, and insists on keeping the public from knowing what papers may be in the safes.

For a long time I have been of the opinion that, indeed, it would be better if by law literary inheritances went automatically to a public institution right after an author’s death, so as to avoid all the insane dealings and wheelings, censorious proscriptions and $$$-based withholdings and permissions-fights that always happen when widows, brothers or sisters, children, grandchildren, secretaries, uncles, aunts & what- & who-ever are involved. But of course, in this supposedly global world, there also are national jealousies and interests tat may not be in the best interests of the author. Kafka may have been Jewish, his estate may have gone to Brod who emigrated to Israel, the writings were in German, making K a treasure of  German-language literature, but his own national identity may well be considered Czech, and so Prague  institutions such as National Archives or the Charles University Library may also possibly have legal grounds to demand the return of K’s ms. invoking ius solis (though I can’t  seem to find out if in the new Czech republic it is ius solis or ius sanguinis that is the law of the land — probably, as in many small countries, a combination of the two may be the case).

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3 Responses

  1. Ed Baker says:

    an interesting “take” on things in

    The Space of Literature

    and especially the section that I am just reading: Kafka and the Work’s Demand


  2. Conrad says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this from “The Trial”? You’ve got Josef K. in the first line there.

    • admin says:

      You’re absolutely right — it is even the opening page of the Trial! I took the facsimile & the title from a German site that should know better, and clearly i didn’t check — thanks for pointing it out!

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