October 2, 2009 / 12:22 PM / 9 years ago

The Trial: Judge tackles Kafka archive nightmare

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - An Israeli court has stepped into a battle over a legacy that may include lost manuscripts of the great 20th century writer Franz Kafka, ordering an elderly heiress to open up a secret hoard of papers, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper said Friday.

A judge in Tel Aviv appointed new executors for the will of Esther Hoffe, who was secretary to Kafka’s friend and fellow Prague writer Max Brod.

The judge also ordered Hoffe’s 75-year-old daughter Eva to give them access to documents that have been a focus of academic and auction-room controversy for four decades, the paper said.

The judge accepted a motion from Haaretz to lift reporting restrictions on a case that followed Hoffe’s death in 2007, aged 101. After Brod died in Israel in 1968, she fought attempts by state archivists to see his papers, and made millions by selling documents that included Kafka’s 1914 manuscript of “The Trial.”

That perplexing tale of Josef K. and his surreal trial for crimes his accusers will not name has prompted ironic comparison with the twisting fate of Kafka’s legacy over the past 85 years.

Scholars say diaries and letters may reveal hidden aspects of the life and work of Kafka, who died in obscurity in 1924, and of Brod. He disobeyed his friend’s will by not burning his stories. Instead, Brod published them, and so turned Kafka into a posthumous giant of German-language and Jewish literature.

Brod later fled the Nazi Holocaust, taking the Kafka papers with him on the last train out of Prague to safety in 1939.

Scholars argue that Brod wanted his archive made available to libraries in Israel and Germany but that Hoffe, who was believed to have had a romantic relationship with him, failed to honor his wishes.

Instead, she hoarded the collection he bequeathed to her, before herself leaving the papers to Eva and her other daughter, who have fought off demands for the documents ever since.

Court officials were not available for comment Friday. But Haaretz’s account of strong language and high emotion at the hearing suggests there will be no quick resolution of the battle between Israel’s national library and Eva Hoffe.

The paper quoted her as ridiculing suggestions that Kafka’s and Brod’s papers may be moldering away in her late mother’s cat-ridden Tel Aviv apartment. “I’m not stupid,” she said. “The material is in safes.”

(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; editing by David Stamp)

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