Under 'Kafkaesque' Pressure, Heir to Kafka Papers May Yield Them





TEL AVIV — Franz Kafka’s final wish before his death in 1924 — that his papers be burned — was famously defied by his friend, the writer Max Brod. The world got “The Trial,” “The Castle” and the adjective Kafkaesque; Mr. Brod got the papers.

When Mr. Brod fled to Tel Aviv from Prague on the last train out in 1939 as the Nazis rolled in, he had with him a suitcase full of Kafka’s documents.

Here, he took up with his secretary, and when he died in 1968, he bequeathed to her the remaining Kafka papers, as well as his own from a rich cultural career. For nearly 40 years, the secretary, Esther Hoffe, held the world of Kafka scholarship on tenterhooks, keeping the documents in her ground-floor apartment on Spinoza Street, some of them piled high on her desk (it was originally Mr. Brod’s), where she typed all day and took her meals.

The last time a scholar was permitted into the apartment was in the 1980s. Later, Ms. Hoffe sold the manuscript for “The Trial” for $2 million. No one knows what remains.

Since her death last year at age 101, her 74-year-old daughter, Hava, has indicated that a decision about the coveted papers will be made in the coming months. While most of the Kafka estate is already in archives in the Czech Republic, Britain and Germany, some may still be inside the scuffed front door of the Hoffe apartment.


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