In 1924, shortly before he died of tuberculosis, Franz Kafka wrote to his friend and fellow Jew Max Brod asking him to "burn unread ... everything I leave behind ... in the way of diaries, manuscripts, [and] letters".
Thankfully Brod did not comply. Instead, he published some of the manuscripts -- including The Castle, The Trial and Metamorphosis -- and Kafka became famous around the world.
In 1939, Brod fled his native Czechoslovakia and moved to Palestine to escape the Nazis. He took two suitcases of unpublished Kafka material with him, which he subsequently deposited in a Swiss bank vault in Zurich.
It remained in the sealed bank vault for fifty years, until it was ordered open this week on the orders of Talia Koppelman, a Tel Aviv family court judge, as part of a court case involving the state of Israel and two sisters, Eva Hoffe and Ruti Wisler, who claim they own the material by way of inheritance from their mother Esther Hoffe, Brod's former secretary and lover, who died three years ago.
Lawyers for the state of Israel claim that a passage in Brod's 1968 will states the archive should go to "an institution in Israel" on his death. Even though Kafka never lived or visited Israel, they claim it amounts to a "national cultural treasure" that should "be made accessible to the public in Israel". The sisters dispute this.
Unfortunately, because of the row, the "literary gems" in the archive will remain a mystery for the legions of Kafka fans and scholars around the world -- at least for the moment -- as the sisters have secured a temporary court ban on any reporting of its contents. They argue revealing the contents of the archive could damage their privacy and also restrict their ability to sell the items in the future.
A final ruling on whether the contents should be disclosed is expected imminently.
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