On Tuesday, May 21st, 2019, Germany’s Federal Criminal Police (BKA) handed over thousands of stolen, previously unknown papers from the Max Brod Archive to National Library of Israel officials at an event at the Israeli Ambassador’s residence in Berlin. Max Brod was a close friend of Franz Kafka, and the man responsible for bringing his famous works to light.
The event is part of the renewal process undertaken by the National Library and the expansion of the Library’s international cooperation initiatives, including a range of joint projects with German research and cultural institutions.
The National Library Chairman David Blumberg and CEO Oren Weinberg arrived in Berlin in late May, 2019 to present the the Library’s collections and goals to leading members of German society. As part of this special visit, the two participated in an event at the residence of the Israeli Ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff, during which Mr. Weinberg presented the renewal process underway at the Library, including the ongoing construction of the new National Library of Israel Campus adjacent to the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament), to a group of German public figures as well as cultural and media personalities.
The culmination of this event was the handing over of thousands of papers, including letters, drafts of plays, diaries and other manuscripts written by the author, composer and playwright Max Brod, by a senior representative of the German police to the heads of the National Library.
Back in 2013, the documents were offered for sale to the German Literature Archive in Marbach and other potential buyers in the country. Following the attempted sale, the authorities were notified and it became clear that the some 5,000 pages of documents were part of Brod’s private archive, and had been stolen from the home of his secretary. Alongside Brod’s personal papers, the collection includes a 1910 postcard signed by his close friend Franz Kafka.
Brod, an accomplished writer and composer, was a confidant of Franz Kafka and is primarily responsible for Kafka’s success as one of the 20th century’s most influential writers, having published many of his works after the author’s death in 1924.
Legal proceedings in Israel and Germany resulted in a verdict by the regional court in Wiesbaden declaring that the stolen papers should be transferred to the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem where they will be made publicly available. Three large suitcases containing the materials were transferred to Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) for temporary safekeeping. These are the documents that are now being handed over to the National Library of Israel.
In accordance with Max Brod’s own wishes that his collections, including Kafka’s writings, be made accessible to the public and kept in a public archive, the National Library has been working in recent years to make this a reality. As part of this activity, many of Brod’s manuscripts were collected, including personal diaries. Among these is a diary written when Brod was Kafka’s closest friend in Prague. In recent years, the document was thought to be lost and had drawn interest from literary scholars around the world. Other diaries in the collection describe Brod’s extensive relationship with members of the Prague Circle (a group of Zionist students in Prague who surrounded Franz Kafka and who were the first in the Zionist movement to formulate the idea of a bi-national state in the Land of Israel). Many of the personal archives of the members of this group are also preserved in the National Library. Over the years the Library had become aware that items from the Brod estate had made their way, one way or another, to Germany, with the purpose of eventually selling them.
According to National Library archivist and Humanities Collection curator, Dr. Stefan Litt, who is tasked with reviewing the materials, “The correspondence found in the archive is extensive and impressive. It can be characterized as a type of ‘who’s who’ of the European cultural world in the first four decades of the twentieth century.”
The Chairman of the National Library’s Board of Directors, Mr. David Blumberg, said: “We are pleased that even after so much time has passed since these papers were stolen, there is now some closure and they will be coming to the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, in accordance with Max Brod’s wishes. Brod was a prolific writer, composer, and playwright and his personal papers will now fittingly join the hundreds of personal archives held among the National Library collection, including a number belonging to figures from the famed “Prague Circle”, of which Brod and Kafka were members.”
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