Franz Kafka: Manuscripts, drawings and personal letters go online

  • Published
Three manuscript drafts of Wedding Preparations in the Country by Franz KafkaImage source, Max Brod Estate / National Library of Israel
Image caption,
Three manuscript drafts of Wedding Preparations in the Country

A collection of documents by the author Franz Kafka is now publicly available online, following intensive restoration, cataloguing and digitisation.

The digitised collection includes three draft versions of Kafka's story Wedding Preparations in the Country, a notebook in which he practiced Hebrew, and hundreds of personal letters, sketches and travel journals.

Image source, Max Brod Estate / National Library of Israel
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Postcards from Kafka to his friend Max Brod
Image source, Max Brod Estate / National Library of Israel
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A Paris travel journal from 1911

Kafka discovered his talent for sketching in his first year of university.

His drawings are primarily grotesque caricatures of people he met, or sketches of himself.

Image source, Max Brod Estate / National Library of Israel
Image caption,
A sketch by Kafka

The collection was left to the National Library of Israel by Max Brod, a friend who Kafka trusted to burn his writings after his death in the 1920s.

But Brod refused and published them instead, leading to Kafka becoming recognised as one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century.

Image source, Getty Images
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Kafka's works, including The Trial, Metamorphosis and The Castle, are considered literary masterpieces.
Image source, Max Brod Estate / National Library of Israel
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One of nine notebooks that documents Franz Kafka's study of Hebrew, which he began in 1917, the same year he contracted tuberculosis

After Brod's death in 1968, the Kafka collection disappeared and the National Library was involved in a "Kafkaesque" 11-year fight to bring the collection together.

Investigators hunted for the documents in Germany, Switzerland, and in bank vaults in Israel.

The final batch of papers arrived in Israel in 2019.

Image source, Max Brod Estate / National Library of Israel
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Autobiographical notes from Kafka, containing reminiscences of his time in school in Prague. "Among the schoolchildren who learned with me, I was dumb, but not the dumbest," he wrote in 1909

Without his close friend Max Brod, Kafka's work would almost certainly have faded into oblivion.

Image source, Getty Images
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Max Brod left the papers to the National Library of Israel in his will

Kafka died in 1924, aged 41, after a seven year battle with tuberculosis.

About 15 years later Brod, also a Czech Jewish writer, was forced to flee Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia for Tel Aviv in British Mandate Palestine and what was to become Israel.

He carried Kafka's papers with him in a suitcase and later went on to publish many of them - helping to posthumously cement his friend's place in history.

Image source, Max Brod Estate / National Library of Israel
Image caption,
Pages from a 47-page letter from Kafka to his father, Hermann, written in the style of a legal attack in 1919. Kafka describes their difficult relationship and the terror instilled in him throughout his childhood. He never sent it to his father

After Brod died, he left the collection to his secretary Esther Hoffe and asked her to ensure that they reached the National Library.

However, she held on to the papers until her own death in 2007, storing some of them in her apartment in Tel Aviv, and others in vaults in Israel and Switzerland.

In 1988, she sold the manuscript of The Trial for $2m (£1.4m).

When Hoffe died, the National Library appealed to her daughters to honour Brod's last wishes and give them the remaining manuscripts.

However, their request was refused and legal proceedings began the following year.

Eventually, Israel's Supreme Court sided with the library and ordered the papers to be handed over to them.

Investigators were allowed to look in Hoffe's apartment in Tel Aviv, where they found it had been taken over by cats which had reportedly caused some damage to the documents.

Image source, Max Brod Estate / National Library of Israel
Image caption,
A sketch by Kafka

"The Franz Kafka papers will now join millions of other items we have brought online in recent years as part of our efforts to preserve and pass down cultural assets to future generations," said Oren Weinberg, director of the National Library of Israel.

"After many years in which these papers were inaccessible to the public, we are proud to now offer free open access to them for scholars and millions of Kafka fans in Israel and across the globe."

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