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Disputed Franz Kafka papers belong in Israel’s National Library, Court rules

Disputed Franz Kafka papers belong in Israel’s National Library, Court rulesIsrael’s Supreme Court has ruled on Monday that an unpublished collection of letters and manuscripts written by Franz Kafka should belong to the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem.

The nation’s top court rejected the third appeal by the heirs of Max Brod for their rights for manuscripts, which are currently deposited in bank vaults in Tel Aviv and Switzerland.

Max Brod was a friend of Kafka and the executor of his estate to whom he had willed his manuscripts after his death in 1924. Brod was instructed by Kafka to burn the papers after his death.

But this promise was broken as Brod took manuscripts with him when he fled the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 and moved to Palestine.

After his death in 1968, the papers were bequeathed to Brod’s secretary Esther Hoffe. She also was given an instruction to pass them to the “Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the municipal library in Tel Aviv or another organization in Israel or abroad”.

But Hoffe was another one who broke the will and kept papers. After her death in 2007 manuscripts were shared between her two daughters. Then all the legal battles began.

Trials started in 2009, when the state of Israel demanded Hoffe’s heirs hand over all the documents, which included unpublished writings, arguing it was Brod’s last will. But Hoffe’s heirs argued that the papers, estimated to be worth millions of dollars, were Brod's private property which they had inherited legally.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court said: “Max Brod did not want his property to be sold at the best price, but for them to find an appropriate place in a literary and cultural institution.”

During her lifetime, Hoffe had sold some paper from the collection, which was locked away in bank safety deposit boxes, to gain money. The original manuscript of Kafka's novel "The Trial", considered to be one of his best works, was auctioned for $2 million in 1988.

In other turn, the library has already promised to translate Kafka’s German-language writings into Hebrew and to publish an anthology based on the papers in the estate.
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