The papers, retrieved from bank vaults where they have sat untouched and unread for decades, could shed new light on one of literature’s darkest figures.
In the past week, the pages have been pulled from safety deposit boxes in Tel Aviv and Zurich, Switzerland, on the order of an Israeli court over the objections of two elderly women who claim to have inherited them from their mother. Literary experts in both cities are sifting through the boxes, and the contents are expected to be of priceless literary and monetary value.
Kafka, a Prague native who wrote in German, was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.
But the newly emerged writings won’t see the light of day until the Israeli court unravels the tangled question of the collection’s rightful owner.
The case boils down to the interpretation of the will of Max Brod, Kafka’s longtime friend and publisher. Kafka bequeathed his writings to Brod before his own death in 1924, instructing his friend to burn everything unread. Brod ignored this and published most of what was in his possession, including The Trial, The Castle and Amerika. But he didn’t publish everything.
Upon his death in 1968, Brod instructed his personal secretary Esther Hoffe to transfer the Kafka papers to an academic institution. Instead, for the next four decades, Hoffe kept the papers in safety deposit boxes in Tel Aviv and Zurich banks. When Hoffe died three years ago, she left the collection to her two daughters. But the Israeli National Library has long claimed the papers, saying Brod intended for the collection to end up in its hands. It filed an injunction against the execution of Hoffe’s will.