How European Jews Spent Their Summers Before the Holocaust

From lake houses to spa days, Jews from all over Europe took full advantage of their summer vacations, building memories that would last a lifetime.

In 2000, Centropa set out on a mission to interview and collect stories and photographs from elderly Jews living in Europe. Interviewers spent up to twenty hours with each respondent, asking them to paint a picture of the world they grew up in and the world they rebuilt for their families following the Holocaust.

Many of the interviewees shared beautiful memories of how their families would spend their summers, vacationing in different countries, eating specific foods and spending time together, building these memories that lasted a lifetime.


Lakeside Adventures: Germany, 1927

Rosa Rosenstein and her siblings spent their summer in Bad Buckow.

“Here you can see me with my siblings,” said Rosa. “As you know, Berlin has wonderful lakes. On Wednesday we always went out in paddleboats, and we also went canoeing. I couldn’t swim, but we went rowing. I started learning swimming three times but gave up after the third time. When I tried for the first time, the swimming instructor held me on a fishing-rod and I had to do the movements. The second time, I got a board and I had to push that board ahead of me. In the end, the instructor said, ‘And now without the board.’ That I didn’t do. I was a coward. I was afraid, I do admit, but such is life.

Rosa Rosenstein and her siblings in Bad Buckow, 1927. Photo courtesy of Centropa

During the summer my parents rented a summer apartment. When we were still small, we spent our first summer vacation in Fichtenau by a lakeside. We took beds and dishes with us. My father came to join us on weekends. He was working while we spent the time with our mother. Mother cooked, and we – just like at home – ate noodle soup.”


Days on the Danube: Hungary, 1930

Piroska Hamos shared, “This picture was taken somewhere on the banks of the Danube, but where exactly, I don’t know. Maybe on Szentendre Island, because we went there many times. We often got together with my cousins. They also lived in Matyasfold, the two houses were close by, 5 minutes apart.

My cousins were friends with my husband – relatives, and friends as well. I liked them very much, they were intelligent, well-educated, well-read people. They graduated from secondary school. Back then, it was a big thing if someone graduated from secondary school. They were not married yet, at that time. They were even angry with my husband because he was the first one in the boat group, who got married.

Rowing on the Danube, 1927. Photo courtesy of Centropa

They owned a boat together, and they rented a space for the boat at the first boathouse, next to the Ujpesti Osszekoto bridge. The owner of the boathouse was called Magashazi. As soon as the weather started to be good, they went to lacquer it (the boat) and put it in order. When I joined their group, then I also went along to tidy up the boat and every weekend, we went rowing on the Danube, in two boats.”


Foraging as a Family: Czech Republic, 1932

Chava Pressburger said, “During longer holidays and summer vacation we would always go outside of Prague with our parents. At Christmas and Easter, we would go skiing in the mountains, while summer vacation we spent in the countryside, where our parents rented a bungalow. One place was named Radosovice. It was close to Prague, and our father would come to visit us on the weekends. We were there alone with our mother and the maid. We would go swimming, for walks, picking mushrooms in the forest and so on.”

Chava Pressburger and her family, 1932. Photo courtesy of Centropa


Spa Day with Grandma: Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Pre-1941

Matilda Cerge spoke about spending her vacation at the Vrnjacka Spa.

“I was my grandmother Matilda’s favorite. She practically raised me. I went everywhere with her. She even took me with her to the spas. Twice a year she went to the spas, like Vrnjacka Spa, and she took me with her.

Once, when I was five years old, I went with my grandmother to the spa. Grandmother was very worried that her granddaughter shouldn’t go hungry. We were in a hotel and we had normal meals there. But, it wasn’t enough for her. So she went to the farmers’ market early in the morning to buy kajmak, the wonderful fresh cream that they make there and fresh lepinja, flat rustic bread. She went to buy these things to ensure that her granddaughter didn’t lose one gram.

Matilda Cerge on vacation at the Vrnjacka Spa. Photo courtesy of Centropa

While she was at the market I was locked in the hotel room, so that I wouldn’t go anywhere. While I sat there in the room, bored, waiting for grandmother, I sat by the mirror and started to twist a brush into my hair. When grandmother came she couldn’t untangle the brush and in the end, she had to cut my hair. Her granddaughter, her beauty, instead of having lovely curls, was deformed, with one side longer than the other side. She only cut the one side, the other side she left as it was.”


Sand, Sun and Scouts: Romania, 1936

Arnold Leinweber described his childhood summers spent in camp.

“This photograph was taken in Bugaz [currently Zatoka in Ukraine], in a boy scouts camp in 1936. The tuberculosis sanitarium is visible in the background. At 16, my school sent me to the seaside [by the Black Sea]. I was sent there three times. The third time, the reason was the good job I had done as head of my group at school. This was what led the director of the camp, Dr. Dumitrescu, to summon us there.

I saw the place where the Dniester River flows into the sea [today part of Ukraine]. The water there was clearer than a spring’s, and the beach was very wide, with sand dunes in which the foot would sink. When we had to return to the camp at noon, after having frolicked for hours, we couldn’t walk, but we had to run like crazy to reach the ground because the sand was too hot to walk on. Another nice thing about that place was that there were some very small mollusks in the sea, which died once they were thrown on the shore.

Arnold Leinweber in Boy Scouts Camp, 1936. Photo courtesy of Centropa

In the evening, we would walk on the shore and find phosphorescent lights – the sea was full of shiny little stars. My boy scout’s hat had a sort of lyre-shaped lily on it. I would put these small crawfish on it, and my hat would glow in the dark. I enjoyed scouting very much.

We slept in tents. The tent was partly buried in the sand so that the wind wouldn’t blow it away and the tide wouldn’t drag it to the sea. Some ropes tied it to stakes. There were pretty tall weeds growing there, and we used them to make the base of our tent. We put the tent sheet over it, we stuffed the pillows with weeds, and this was our bedroom. I stayed with the other two heads of groups in a tent of three. Others stayed in tents of six, eight or ten.”


Countryside Bliss: Czech Republic, 1937

Toman Brod said, “We used to spend our summer holidays at the summer house in Libverda. In the summer we used to go to a summer house. If I remember correctly, in the beginning, it was only around Prague, when I was a small child we used to for example go to Revnice. The first bigger holiday event was Doksy, Mach Lake, then for a few years it was Libverda, that’s near Liberec, where we went for about three years, but because it was in the border region, where it wasn’t all that pleasant to be in the 1930s, we spent our last summer vacation, in 1938, at Mala Skala near Turnov.

Toman Brod with his brother, Hanus, on summer vacation, 1937. Photo courtesy of Centropa

We would always go there for two months, the two of us, our mother, the cook, and the nanny. Our father had work, so he wasn’t there regularly, he would come when he had the time, and then would again leave for Prague. Besides us there were also other families there, some three, four would always be there. They were Jews. Some of them were our relatives; some were more distant relatives with whom my mother was in closer contact than with her own. They were women that played bridge with her, and who had children, so we spent our summer vacation with them, we knew them from childhood. We spent beautiful, calm, secure times together.”


This article appears here as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities across Europe and beyond, through storytelling, knowledge sharing and community engagement.


If you liked this article, try these:

A Shattered Childhood: Memories of Kristallnacht

Love on the Wings of a Paper Airplane

From a Jewish Haven in Vienna to the Death Marches of the Holocaust

Kafka’s “Blue Notebook” Revealed

Why did the famous writer decide to study Hebrew? And what did he document in the Hebrew notebook he kept?

1917 was a fateful year in the life of Franz Kafka. In that year, the same year he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, Kafka began teaching himself Hebrew. When his friend Max Brod heard about this, he was stunned. How was it possible that for over six months his close friend had been studying Hebrew without telling him—a Zionist activist planning on immigrating to Palestine? The discovery led to a broad correspondence in Hebrew, in which the Czech-Jewish writer and lawyer sought to practice his Hebrew with a more qualified speaker than himself.

If at first Brod viewed his friend’s decision mainly as an attempt to entertain himself intellectually, the more Kafka deepened his study of the language, the more his interest in Zionism and in his Jewish roots grew. In addition to his desire to read the Bible in the original language, he was becoming more interested in the Socialist stream of Zionism. He followed a number of Zionist journals in German and made sure to keep up on the news of the Second Aliyah (Jewish immigration wave) to the Land of Israel.

We find evidence of this in one of Kafka’s eight Hebrew notebooks, which were recently received at the Library as part of the estate of Max Brod, at the end of a long legal process (which you can read about here). Besides the list of Hebrew vocabulary words and their German translations, in the “Blue Notebook,” Kafka documented the teacher’s strike in Mandatory Palestine in November 1922. This record enables us to date the notebook—two years before his death from tuberculosis in Klosterneuburg, Austria. At that time, Kafka’s Hebrew teacher, a young woman named Puah Ben Tovim, from the Hebrew Yishuv in the Land of Israel, had arrived in Prague with the aim of studying medicine. Even when Kafka’s health began to fail, he continued pursuing his Hebrew studies.

The Blue Notebook, the National Library collections.

Kafka wrote (in Hebrew!) to his teacher Puah:

…from the heavy and deep sighs that arise from the economic pressure that Zionism and the workers of the Land of Israel are under. The teachers took nine measures and eight of these measures were taken by the teachers of Jerusalem. There is no end to the threats of strike or protests and deafening reminders [?] flying from all around. There is the impression that the teachers have fallen into the worst situation of all the workers in the Yishuv and they are the only ones who are suffering and deprived of wages. The question of teacher salaries has become the central and burning issue. As if here begins and ends the entire episode of suffering and difficult struggle of this helpless period.

Kafka documents the teachers' strike in Mandatory Palestine in November 1922, the National Library collections
Kafka documents the teachers’ strike in Mandatory Palestine in November 1922, the National Library collections

The turning point came in the last year of his life, 1924, when he told his beloved, Dora Diamant, about his plans for the future: to settle in the Land of Israel and open a restaurant that would serve the Zionist pioneers. The plan was amazingly simple—Dora would be responsible for cooking the food, and he would serve as the restaurant’s waiter and manager. The plan he concocted probably sounded to Dora like another of the many stories he liked to tell his friends. However, it might have contained more than just a wish: A year earlier, Kafka corresponded with his friend from his university days, the philosopher and educator Samuel Hugo Bergmann and his wife Elsa, about the possibility that Kafka might accompany Elsa on her journey back to Mandatory Palestine.

In fact, though Bergmann had given his consent, he tried to evade his promise to Kafka with various excuses, all fairly reasonable: he told his wife that he preferred that Kafka wait a while longer in Europe. That the house was too small, he would have to sleep in the children’s room, and mainly, that Kafka was too sick for the arduous journey and difficult conditions he would encounter in the Land of Israel.

In the end, his precarious medical condition put an end to any possibility of his traveling. When it became clear that tickets for the ship he had planned to sail on with Elsa were sold out, he told her not to pay too much attention to his plan to accompany her because it was nothing more than the fantasy of an ill man. He did not, however, rule out the possibility that he would visit them when his health improved.

Kafka spent more than seven years studying Hebrew. His plan to open a restaurant in Palestine was probably nothing more than a pipedream, but his desire to see the developing Hebrew community with his own eyes and to speak the language of the local pioneers remained unchanged until his death.

He never made the journey because he died on June 3rd, 1924 in the sanitarium in Klosterneuburg. The Czech-Jewish writer was laid to rest in Prague, where he lived most of his life and where he wrote most of the works that have granted him eternal fame.

You can now browse through Franz Kafka’s “Blue Notebook” on the National Library of Israel website, here.


See more items from the Kafka archives:

The Drawings of Franz Kafka

The Fate of Franz Kafka’s Archive

Kafka’s Rare Manuscripts: From the Vault in Switzerland to the Library in Jerusalem

The Drawings of Franz Kafka

In his first year at university, Kafka discovered a talent for drawing

His parents’ dream was shattered. Franz, the daydreaming youth, would not be taking over the management of his father’s emporium. After much deliberation, the parents came up with the only possible solution: whether he liked it or not, the young man would attend university and learn a profession.

Franz’s parents preferred a profession that was both respectable and lucrative. He himself imagined a future that would allow his innovative spirit to make a mark. Hermann, the patriarch of the Kafka family, and in his son’s eyes – its undisputed tyrant, could have easily dictated Franz’s course of study. After all, the eighteen-year-old was financially dependent on an allowance. Only a sensitivity to that which was normal and acceptable in Prague society prevented him from interfering.

Three weeks sufficed for the young man to determine that he would not find what he was looking for in the chemistry department. He enrolled in law studies at the University of Prague—a field he at first reviled, but one that promised many employment opportunities that he found attractive – primarily because they allowed him the option of delaying a decision on his professional future for a few years.

As was to be expected, Kafka the student refused to devote himself entirely to the study of “Roman Law” (this was how he referred to his studies), and he enrolled in courses in the fields of art, architecture and philosophy. At this early stage, he did not yet see himself as a writer. From among his two greatest loves—the visual arts and literature—it seemed as if the first might win out. He discovered, to his surprise, a not insignificant talent for drawing, and he began filling the margins of his notebooks with doodles.

Reiner Stach, author of a monumental, three-volume biography of Kafka, suggests that the student’s first sketches represent an initial, yet major step in the crystallization of his future literary creativity. In his first years at university, Franz the art lover was enchanted by the “Japanese” works of Emil Orlik —an Austrian Jewish artist who had studied in Japan.

Emil Ulrich, Japanese girl standing beneath a willow tree, 1901
Emil Orlik, Japanese girl standing beneath a willow tree, 1901

The singular brushstroke with which Orlik captured both landscapes and people, and the “flatness” of the minimalist paintings captivated the young man who discovered profoundness behind their seemingly simple appearance. The choice of using simple aesthetic forms, the future writer might have said to himself, can carry within it tremendous creative energy.

Among the files of Franz Kafka’s estate is a black notebook that Kafka filled with sketches. At the end of the notebook there is a fragmentary piece of writing entitled The Journey—I Know Not. The fragment begins with the words: “So she sleeps, I do not wake her.” His friend Max Brod noted on a separate page attached to the notebook that the fragment was apparently composed in the 1920s (Kafka died in 1924), because the Hebrew word sna’it (squirrel) appears on it – and we know that Kafka began to study Hebrew in 1917.

The Journey—I Know Not, including Kafa's Hebrew squirrel
The Journey—I Know Not, including Kafa’s Hebrew squirrel
Help us write the next chapter in the history of Israel and the Jewish people! Become an International Member of the National Library of Israel and join our family! Click on the image above for more information

Why did Kafka abandon drawing and choose literature instead? It is possible that the answer to this is hinted at in something he said to his friend Gustav Janouch, quoted in the book Conversations with Kafka (Derek Verschoyle Limited, 1953): “I should so like to be able to draw. As a matter of fact, I am always trying to. But nothing comes of it. My drawings are purely personal picture writing, whose meaning even I cannot discover after a time.”


Kafka’s Drawings:


For further reading:

Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Early Years, trans. Shelly Frisch, Princeton University Press, 2017

Gustav Janouch, Conversations with Kafka, trans. Goronwy Rees, Derek Verschoyle Limited, 1953


See more items from the Kafka archives:

Kafka’s “Blue Notebook” Revealed

The Fate of Franz Kafka’s Archive

Kafka’s Rare Manuscripts: From the Vault in Switzerland to the Library in Jerusalem

The Fate of Franz Kafka’s Archive

Franz Kafka likely never imagined the incredible value or near “sacred” aura which are today attributed to each of his handwritten works


פתיחת הכספת הראשונה

In the novel The Castle—Kafka’s final work—is an almost comic scene, in which the protagonist, the surveyor K., arrives at the home of the village mayor. The mayor tells K. about an official letter he had received a long time ago from the castle administrator, according to which he must hire a surveyor. The mayor wants to show the document to K. and asks his wife, Mitzi, to find it in the cupboard where all the files, documents and other written materials are stored, in complete disarray. In her search, Mitzi empties all of the contents of the cupboard onto the floor, but she cannot find the specific document. The mayor tells K. that at the beginning of his term he used to save all the paperwork and adds that there is more material in the shed outside. At the end of the scene, Mitzi and two of K.’s assistants try to put all the files back into the cupboard, but to do this they must lay the cupboard on the floor. Only when they sit on the cupboard’s doors are they able to finally close it. This absurd passage illustrates Kafka’s clear understanding of what the negligent care of written material can lead to. It is doubtful that at the time of writing he was imagining the fate of his personal archive after his death, but it is hard to not think of this scene in the novel when dealing with the restoration of Franz Kafka’s personal archive.

Even with all the dissimilarities between the works of different writers, there tends to be a remarkable resemblance in the items that comprise their private archives. Personal documents, manuscripts, correspondence—these are the components that can be spotted in almost every private archive that is administered and donated without the involvement of a third party. The situation is completely different as regards the archive of Franz Kafka for a number of reasons. First, for the last eight years of his life, Kafka moved numerous times, between Prague and a number of sanitariums in Bohemia, Italy, Austria and Berlin, where he lived for a few months with his partner Dora Diamant. One can assume that during this period, he left some of his manuscripts, notebooks and the letters he received with his parents, his sister Ottilie and with Dora Diamant in Berlin. It is known that some of the manuscripts that remained in Dora’s home were confiscated by the Nazis after their rise to power and have never been found. Furthermore, there is the testimony of Max Brod, who wrote in a letter to Martin Buber in January 1927: “Are you aware that in his final year, he [Kafka] asked his girlfriend [Dora Diamant] to throw twenty thick notebooks into the fire? He lay in bed and watched the manuscripts burn.”

Kafka apparently did not attach much significance to his personal archive. The burning of his notebooks testifies to this, as do the two “wills” he left Brod, in which he asked him to burn all the materials (manuscripts and letters) discovered after his death. Any thought of his personal papers’ importance was foreign to him. One can assume that he did not foresee either the monetary value or near “sacred” aura attributed to each handwritten item today.

Dr. Stefan Litt of the National Library's Archives Department examines items from the Kafka estate.
Dr. Stefan Litt of the National Library’s Archives Department examines items from the Kafka estate.

Immediately after Kafka’s death on June 3rd, 1924, Max Brod took the first steps to save his friend’s precious legacy. He sent an initial report about Kafka’s estate in early July 1924—about one month after Kafka’s death—to Samuel Hugo Bergmann, who was the director of the National Library in Jerusalem. In it, Brod wrote: “I have just now received Kafka’s literary estate for review. Three novels and many other things not yet published are waiting for someone to prepare them for printing. Unfortunately, no one can do this but me! In addition, a large amount of disorganized papers must be examined (you will be interested to know that among them are many notebooks for practicing Hebrew). It seems to me that in terms of literary value, the estate outweighs anything Kafka published in his lifetime.”

Shortly thereafter, on July 17th, 1924, Brod published an article about his late friend’s literary estate in the well-known journal Die Weltbühne, in which he gave the following details: “In his apartment I found ten quarto format notebooks—but only the covers; the contents had been completely destroyed. Moreover (according to a trustworthy source), he burned a number of notebooks with records. Only a bundle of pages (approximately 100 aphorisms on religious issues), a draft of autobiographical content, which will remain unpublished for now and another pile of disorganized papers, which I am currently sorting through, were found in the apartment. My hope is that among the papers, I will discover complete or near complete stories. Beyond that, I was given a novella about animals and another sketchbook.” Regarding Kafka’s three novels, Brod wrote: “The works that were saved in time from the author’s wrath are the most valuable part of the estate and are stored in safe places. These are three novels. The Stoker, a story that has already been published, is the first chapter of a novel whose plot is set in America, and of which the final chapter also exists, so apparently not too many significant parts are missing. This novel is with the deceased’s girlfriend. Two others—The Castle and The Trial, which is a vibrant and fascinating book  (representing the peak of Kafka’s art)—I saved four years ago (and one year ago), something which truly comforts me today.” At the end of the article, Brod notes that he intends to publish Kafka’s works, but not yet his letters.



Research conducted over the last decades has made clear that Kafka’s manuscripts were indeed scattered among his various friends: some with Brod, several notebooks and the manuscript of the novel Amerika with Milena Jesenská, and The Metamorphosis, the manuscript of Letter to His Father, and additional notebooks with his parents. As mentioned, other materials were kept with Dora Diamant, various letters sent by Kafka were with their recipients: Felice Bauer (to whom he was twice engaged), Milena Jesenská, Max Brod, Felix Weltsch, Samuel Hugo Bergmann, Oskar Baum and others. But what happened to all of the letters Kafka received from his friends and acquaintances? The only ones left were those sent by Max Brod, which Brod apparently saved along with the rest of Kafka’s estate, but what of the others? Did he or one of his acquaintances destroy them? Did Max Brod himself do it, thus fulfilling Kafka’s request regarding at least part of his archive? If so, why? Hopefully, more research will shed light on this issue.

Shortly after Kafka’s death, Max Brod prepared the three manuscripts for print, even though all were incomplete and would not have stood up to their author’s critical eye. The Trial was published first, in 1925 by Die Schmiede, a small avant-garde printing press in Berlin. The Castle followed in 1926, and Amerika in 1927, both released by the renowned publisher Kurt Wolff. Most of the works Kafka had published in his lifetime were put out by Wolff. The three books were given a lukewarm reception at first, and Brod pleaded with those well-known figures who knew Kafka to write in praise of the novels. For example, he approached Martin Buber who had been among the first to recognize the high literary potential of Kafka’s writing. Recognition of Kafka’s literary greatness had not yet reached the level of international admiration that emerged in the decades after World War II.

Already in 1931, Max Brod was negotiating with various publishers about the possibility of releasing all of Kafka’s writings in a book series, but without much success, at first. In 1934, Salman Schocken bought all the rights to Kafka’s works from the author’s parents. The next year, the first volume of Kafka’s complete works was put out by Schocken Press in Germany, and the rest were published in Czechoslovakia and the United States. All of his important works, his diaries and letters—everything Kafka had never wanted to see the light of day, were included in these six volumes, with Max Brod as the editor of the series. In 1937, Brod added the first biography of Kafka, thereby initiating an almost endless stream of studies about the author’s life and works. An essential part of Kafka’s fame as a writer of genius is based on this series and Brod’s biography.



When Brod immigrated to Palestine in March 1939, he brought with him most of Kafka’s archive. In the years before, Brod gathered in one place all of the manuscripts, notebooks and letters that had been scattered among Kafka’s acquaintances. World War II, which was threatening even Palestine and Tel Aviv, caused Brod to consider alternatives to storing Kafka’s writings in his own house. At first, he approached the Hebrew University in the hope that they would agree to keep the treasure in the National and University Library on Mount Scopus, but its director at the time, Gotthold Weil, refused, because he was then preoccupied with how to preserve the Library’s own collections in those worrisome days, and was not free to deal with private inquiries. (Ironically, had Weill agreed, the legal debates of the last several years around the ownership of Max Brod’s archive, which included writings by Kafka, might have been avoided). Shortly after Brod’s approach, the Library changed its mind and agreed to his request, but in the meantime, he had found another solution in the private library of Salman Schocken in Jerusalem.

In the 1950s, many of Kafka’s manuscripts were moved to a bank in Zurich. Following an appeal by Kafka’s heirs—the children of his sister who survived the Holocaust—Max Brod was forced to hand over most of the materials to them in 1962, and thus they found their way to England. This is the reason why the largest collection of Kafka manuscripts in the world today is in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, in a country Kafka never visited and whose language he never mastered. For years researchers have essentially ignored this fact in the turbulent discussions over the question: Who does Kafka belong to? To Israel or Germany? It seems a third option provides the answer. The only large manuscript to remain with Max Brod was for the novel The Trial, and a few other short stories, among them, Wedding Preparations in the Country, and Description of a Struggle, a number of notepads and dozens of letters. As long as Brod was alive, he never sold even a single one of these precious items. In the 1940s and 50s he allegedly gave them as a gift to his secretary Esther Hoffe, but did not finalize the legal process of the transfer.

This is not the place to recount the story of Esther Hoffe’s strange management of Max Brod’s estate following his death in December 1968. It will suffice to mention that beginning in 1971, important items from Brod’s archive were sold, including short texts and some of Kafka’s letters to various recipients. What started with the (justified) return of the manuscripts to Kafka’s heirs, continued with Hoffe’s activities in the 1970s and 80s, and led, in fact, to the scattering of Kafka’s archive across various institutions and private collections around the world. The manuscript of The Trial was sold at a public auction and eventually arrived at the German Literature Archive in Marbach, Description of a Struggle was sold to a private collector. Occasionally, Kafka’s letters to Brod would appear at auction. The absurd asking prices (close to 100,000 Euro for one letter), make it nearly impossible to purchase them for public collections.

Following the December 2016 Israeli Supreme Court ruling that Max Brod’s archive, including Kafka’s writings, be handed over to the National Library, materials that had been stored for years in safety deposit boxes in banks in Tel Aviv were brought to the Library.  Among the materials in Max Brod’s estate were several items of Kafka’s: postcards to family members and acquaintances, two written messages for Max Brod, a few pages with lists, and also an unfinished and untitled short autobiographical sketch, from 1909, that begins with the sentence: “Among the students who studied with me I was dumb, but not the dumbest.” This appears to be the autobiographical text Brod mentioned in his article on the Kafka estate.

Postcards exchanged between Franz Kafka and Max Brod
Postcards exchanged between Franz Kafka and Max Brod

On July 15th, 2019, the last step in the process of transferring Brod’s archive to the National Library was completed. For decades, additional materials, perhaps the most precious ones in Brod’s entire archive, were hidden in a Swiss bank. Among Brod’s important letters and diaries were dozens of letters from Kafka, two manuscripts and even travel diaries from 1911 written when the two friends (Brod and Kafka) traveled together to Paris. When the Library’s representatives arrived at the destination on the appointed day, the safes were opened and inside were all the items they knew existed but had never seen in their original form. Their physical condition was excellent. The manuscript for Wedding Preparations in the Country (in three versions) and Letter to His Father aroused great excitement.

Manuscripts of Wedding Preparations in the Country
Manuscripts of Wedding Preparations in the Country

A quick look at two additional Kafka notebooks they had been aware of revealed that one contained mainly small sketches and doodles by the writer, who enjoyed drawing occasionally. The other notebook proved once again Kafka’s fascination with the Hebrew language which he had begun studying in 1917, around the same time he became ill with tuberculosis. This notebook includes exercises in Hebrew, lists of vocabulary words and even entire paragraphs related to historical events, such as the teachers’ strike in Palestine in November 1922. It is possible that the excerpt reflects one of the lessons given to him by Puah Menczel, a young woman from Mandatory Palestine who was then living in Prague and who taught Kafka Hebrew. These items and others were transferred to the National Library where they will be catalogued, restored (if necessary) and scanned, so that, nearly a hundred years after Kafka’s death, they will be made conveniently available to the public on the internet.

A Kafka sketch
A Kafka sketch

Today, Kafka’s archive is not gathered in one place alone, but rather scattered among three main collections: the Bodleian Library at Oxford, the German Literature Archive in Marbach and the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, which holds most of the personal archives of the “Prague Circle.” Almost no material remains in Prague, the city of Kafka’s birth, a strange situation, but one that stems from historical reasons. Perhaps this dispersal across three countries, two of which Kafka never visited, is actually befitting an author of universal status.


See more items from the Kafka archives:

Kafka’s “Blue Notebook” Revealed

The Drawings of Franz Kafka

Kafka’s Rare Manuscripts: From the Vault in Switzerland to the Library in Jerusalem