July 22, 2010

Judge orders trove of Kafka documents — said to include never-before-seen short story — to be made public


Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka

Following up on an earlier report: “A judge at Tel Aviv District Family Court on Tuesday rejected a request for a gag order on the contents of a box containing manuscripts written by Franz Kafka,” reports a Haaretz story by Ofer Aderet. “Eva Hoffe, the Israeli woman who inherited the documents, was asked to pay court costs to the National Library and attorney Ehud Sol, the manager of the estate of Kafka’s close friend Max Brod.”

Perhaps more importantly: “Judge Talia Pardo also instructed attorneys Tuesday to prepare a detailed list of the items in the safe deposit boxes to be published ….”

Then comes the shocker, apparently leaked to Aderet by a witness to the forced opening of the safe deposit where the box of documents was kept last week:

Haaretz has learned that a huge amount of documents found in the safe deposit boxes are letters and manuscripts belonging to Kafka and Brod. Also in the box is a handwritten short story by Kafka that has never before been seen.

From a research point of view, the handwritten manuscript is of great value since Kafka’s publications over the years had been edited by Brod.

As you probably guessed, the fight over ownership of the documents is only intensifying. Once again Haaretz does not clarify why Hoffe, who seems to clearly own the documents, is having them taken away from her. But it does report that both the Israeli National Library and Germany’s Archive of German Literature have staked claims to ownership of the documents.

Expect it to get even more intense soon: “Several more safe deposit boxes are due to be opened by court officials and lawyers in Tel Aviv, where more documents and manuscripts of the two authors are expected to be found.” There are also safe deposit boxes containing Kafka documents in Vienna.

Kafka famously ordered that all his documents be destroyed upon his death.

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.