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A Yearslong Battle Over Kafka’s Legacy Ends in Jerusalem

The saga began with Mr. Brod’s fleeing to Tel Aviv, in what was then British-ruled Palestine, from Prague in 1939, carrying a suitcase of Kafka’s work.

Kafka, a relatively unknown figure during his lifetime, had instructed Mr. Brod to burn his manuscripts, letters and papers after his death. Instead, Mr. Brod published many of the writer’s most monumental, if incomplete, works, including “The Trial” and “The Castle,” bringing Kafka posthumous fame.

When Mr. Brod died in 1968, he bequeathed his archive, including Kafka’s papers, to his secretary, Esther Hoffe, who stashed them in her Tel Aviv apartment. She sold off some works, including the manuscript for “The Trial” for $2 million in 1988. When Ms. Hoffe died in 2007, the materials passed to her two daughters.

Israel sued for the trove in 2008, arguing that Mr. Brod’s 1948 will said that his archive should go to a “public Jewish library or archive in Palestine,” and that he had later specified the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which houses the National Library. Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that Mr. Brod’s estate, including Kafka’s writings, belonged in the National Library.

The contest also involved legal processes in Germany, where some manuscripts that the Hoffe family claimed had been stolen from the Tel Aviv apartment turned up on the private market. A court in Zurich upheld the Israeli ruling and said that the safe deposit boxes’ contents, which were stored in the headquarters of the bank UBS, should be handed over to Israel.

Both Kafka and Mr. Brod were born in Prague, which was then part of the state of Bohemia in the Austrian-Hungarian empire and is now the capital of the Czech Republic. Though both writers were part of the literary scene known as the Prague Circle, the Czech government never made claims to the archive, said Mr. Blumberg, the national library chairman.


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