“Now I think that Kafka himself is saying to me: ‘You have done enough’”

From Zurich to Tel Aviv: A journey tracing the legacy of the writer, composer and philosopher: Max Brod

מקס ברוד

When authors, artists, and academics were forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1933 (and later Austria and other countries), they generally left in such a haste that they were unable to bring along personal effects and their private archives were often poorly stored or lost altogether. Moving (or being moved) to new cities and countries, last-minute escapes and deteriorating living conditions became the natural enemy threatening the survival of archival materials: documents, correspondence, manuscripts and drafts.

The same was true of the personal libraries of great writers.

Accounts from Jewish artists who fled the Nazi regime best illustrate this matter. In 1934, writer Stefan Zweig began sending away parts of his personal archive (a section of which was sent to the National Library in Jerusalem), but he also left portions of it at almost every stop on his way to Brazil. When the poetess and painter Else Lasker-Schüler fled Nazi Germany in 1933, considerable portions of her written material remained in Berlin. The trail of this material has long run cold and will probably never be rediscovered. Walter Benjamin’s papers were hidden away by an acquaintance in the National Library in Paris. Benjamin sent other materials to his close friend in Jerusalem, Gershom Scholem. There are rumors that on his last journey (which was ended at Portbou near the Franco-Spanish border when Benjamin took his own life), he carried with him a suitcase with an unfinished manuscript. To this day, what happened to the suitcase remains a mystery.

מקס ברוד
Max Brod. His diaries reveal a who’s who of the European cultural world in the first half of the twentieth century

After 1945, this situation led a number of archival institutions around the world to invest efforts in locating and collecting the scattered remains of personal legacies, collections and archives lost in the Holocaust. The actions of these institutions helped to rescue and reveal important materials, but they also created a certain competition among the organizations as they raced to track down manuscripts, letters and entire archives. This is precisely what happened in the case of the personal archive of the author, philosopher and playwright, Max Brod (1884-1968), whose 50th memorial will be observed on December 20, 2018.

Although Brod managed to transfer large portions of his archive to Israel, we will see that it only narrowly avoided the fate of the archives mentioned above. The long journey of Max Brod’s archive to the National Library has been the subject of extensive media coverage in Israel and around the world.

There is no need to delve into the details of the affair that spanned four courts, scores of lawyers and even more journalists. I will only note that, in 1961, Max Brod stated in his will that his secretary, Esther Hoffe, was to manage his estate after his death and arrange for all written material to be transferred to the National Library of Israel or to another suitable place. Esther Hoffe did not execute this order posthaste. Instead, she began selling important items in the collection. In 1971, Hoffe sold several letters written to Brod by Franz Kafka and others, as well as three original short manuscripts written by Kafka. Other items were also sold later on.

This selling off of the various items in the collection culminated in the sale of a manuscript of Kafka’s novel, “The Trial,” for two million dollars in 1988. The majority of sales were made on the free market and not to public archives. It is, therefore, difficult to identify any marked intention to preserve the unity of Max Brod’s archive, including the letters and manuscripts written by his friend, Kafka. The German Literature Archive in Marbach tried to acquire the archive from the Hoffe family in order to transfer the works to Germany. But, due to the unequivocal ruling of three Israeli courts in favor of the National Library’s position on the matter, Max Brod’s estate remains in Israel. The first part of the collection is currently undergoing cataloguing and registration in the Archives Department of the National Library. The Brod archive provides a valuable addition to parallel archival collections of Prague-based authors (Felix Weltsch, Hugo Bergmann, Oskar Baum and others), whose works already reside in the library.

The sections of the archive in Max Brod’s possession arrived in Palestine intact, together with its creator who was able to arrange a last minute immigration from the Czech Republic in March 1939. Brod continued to write in his new home and even extended his influence in the theater world as an artistic advisor at Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv.

During the nearly 30 years in which Max Brod lived in Israel, his personal archive grew as he wrote and accumulated many materials. In the 1940s, Brod gave the Kafka writings to the Schocken family (well-known publishers) for safekeeping. However, those writings which Brod received as a gift from Kafka were transferred to bank vaults in 1952 and 1957. All of Franz Kafka’s other writings (those that never belonged to Brod) were handed over to the author’s nieces in the 1960s, and eventually reached the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The majority of Kafka’s writings that were owned by Brod were placed in a bank vault in Zurich and, over the years, Esther Hoffe removed items to sell them at auction.

Following the decisions of Israel’s Supreme Court, other parts of the Brod archive were removed from bank vaults located in Tel Aviv in December 2016 and January 2017. The archive was declared a public trust and now, fifty years after Brod’s passing, the time has come to allow the materials to be examined by researchers and scholars. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the contents of the vaults were transferred to the National Library, which was granted the status of custodian of the collection.

Among the items found in the vaults were manuscripts of a number of novels composed by Brod, including: “Der Meister” – “The Master”, published in 1952, a novel about Jesus, “Galilei”, written in 1948, about the astronomer Galileo Galilei, “The Prague Circle” from 1966 and others. These novels were published (in German and several other languages), and some of them even became bestsellers. But Max Brod’s diaries are what will shed new light on his life, his work and the period in which he lived. Several of these diaries were discovered in the vaults (others were removed by the Hoffe family in the 1980s and have never resurfaced). In the diaries we mainly find Brod’s own reflections, as well as various stages of his artistic work and descriptions of significant events in his life.

For example, in one diary from 1925-1928, Brod recorded his thoughts and described his efforts to help Franz Kafka’s last wife, Dora Diamant, find work. In a list from October 1926, Brod mentions an entire network of Kafka’s friends who had tried to help Dora. Robert Klopstock thought that Dora Diamant would be best suited to be a kindergarten teacher, but Lisa Weltsch (Robert Weltsch’s sister) had already found Dora a position which she ultimately turned down. Brod wrote a letter to the Neue Rundschau (New Perspective) magazine in Berlin recommending her for a job. He also wrote to Willy Haas, the founder of the influential literary journal, Die Literarische Welt (The World of Literature), and to Berthold Viertel, a writer and director who is well known today.

Alas, the group’s effort was for naught. Dora continued to inhabit an unheated apartment without enough food, her sole source of income stemming from a monthly allowance given to her by Robert Klopstock. One can almost hear Brod’s audible sigh as he wrote these concluding lines: “Now I think Kafka himself is saying to me: ‘You have done enough.'”

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. There are letters by the philosopher Walter Benjamin (who did not particularly appreciate Max Brod’s work), by Hugo Heller (the book dealer, musicologist and friend of Sigmund Freud) from Vienna, by the communist composer Paul Dessau and by the pioneer of literary expressionism, Kurt Hiller. Brod was in contact with Hiller for at least 40 years and even appeared with him at literary events in Prague. Surprisingly, Hiller is mentioned only once in the memoirs of Max Brod’s life, “A Life of Quarrel.” Max Brod had even corresponded with the founder of the famous Die Weltbühne magazine, Siegfried Jacobsohn. The letters, found in the vaults in Tel Aviv, illustrate how connected Brod was with writers, journalists, scribes, and other literary professionals. Their analysis will enrich the picture of the historical period in which they were written and may even change our understanding of it.


ברוד והילר, שנת 1910
Max Brod and Hiller, 1910

As mentioned above, some items from Brod’s archive are still hidden away in safes in Switzerland. The National Library is working to find a solution, within the Swiss legal system, to transfer these items to Jerusalem. The vaults in Switzerland hold the most valuable materials in Brod’s archive: first and foremost, Franz Kafka’s many letters and even a few small manuscripts (“Wedding Preparations in the Country”, “Letter to His Father”). Kafka’s writings in Hebrew and a number of his paintings are also contained in these vaults.

In addition, the Swiss vaults contain other important pieces of Max Brod’s correspondence including letters by Klaus, Erica and Thomas Mann, Franz Werfel, Albert Einstein and Martin Buber. It is reasonable to assume that these parts of the Brod estate were placed in Switzerland for fear of being kept in Israel. They are thought to have been intended for sale, as was the case with Kafka’s two manuscripts, “The Trial” and “Description of a Struggle”, as well as about forty letters written by Stefan Zweig to Brod.

As if the splitting of the archive was not enough, ten years ago thieves broke into the Tel Aviv home of Eva Hoffe, the daughter of Esther Hoffe. In the house were archival materials that the family had refused to account for, their nature and quantity unknown. Five years ago, thousands of pages in Brod’s handwriting appeared in a German manuscript market and were offered for sale.

Our colleagues at the German Literature Archive in Marbach drew our attention to these documents and, eventually, the German police intervened. In a lengthy process, the papers were examined and it turned out that most of them undeniably belonged to the Brod estate. Among the recovered documents were many letters between Brod and his wife Elsa, lists and manuscripts of several of his works (including the early novel Schloss NornepyggeNornepygge Castle). There were also notebooks from his studies at the Prague Gymnasium and various photographs. These documents are slated to be transferred to the National Library in the near future.


כתב ידו של ברוד מתוך יומניו
Brod’s handwriting from his diaries, June 23, 1946: “I have browsed through the old diaries, mainly in numbers 5 and 6, but I have changed quite a bit. At the time, I lived in the illusion that a few good things (a solution to unemployment) could come from evil (the Nazis). Everywhere I saw a mixture of good and evil, good came out of evil and unfortunately the opposite as well. But all this is nonsense. Now I see things clearly and firmly. The terrible doubts were so strong in me because these masochistic Jews (Blau, Thomas Keller, etc.) repeatedly preached in the newspaper Prager Tagblatt: ‘It is true that for us it is not good for what is happening in Germany, but we must not lose objectivity.’ In the end we saw how wrong that assumption was.”


The various locations in which pieces of the Max Brod archive have been discovered (not to mention those yet undiscovered) show the extent to which private ownership can be harmful to the condition of the material. An organic archive that was brought to Israel almost eighty years ago was scattered to a number of locations across the world (most of which were never intended to professionally preserve documents of historical-cultural significance) over the course of fifty years, following Brod’s death.

The full extent to which keeping archival materials in a private home can be unsuitable and even dangerous was exemplified when a team of archivists visited Eva Hoffe’s residence (following her passing) in Tel Aviv in mid-September to identify additional parts of the Max Brod estate and transfer them to the National Library. Prior to the visit, the team was warned that they would encounter the most difficult of conditions – and so it was.

Many cats and cockroaches watched us suspiciously as we discovered and collected a considerable amount of archival materials and books. This is not the place to describe the catastrophic conditions in detail, but it is reasonable to assume that (following the unprofessional maintenance) the National Library’s rehabilitation lab will have a great deal of work in the coming months. Perhaps the sole positive in this situation is that Max Brod was spared the sight of his life’s work having been given this disrespectful treatment.

Revealed: How Hanukkah Was Celebrated a Thousand Years Ago

We collected a few greetings and well-wishes for the holiday that were found in the famous Cairo Genizah

A letter written in Judeo-Arabic reads "Bada al-ayyam al-sharifa (These days the honorable ones), al-mukhtazah al-mahawdeh b-elnasim (well-known and recognized for miracles)... He who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time…"

Even though it is not one of the biblical Jewish holidays, the festival of Hanukkah held an important place for the Jews of medieval Cairo who wrote a majority of the documents in the Cairo Genizah. This famous collection of Jewish manuscript fragments was originally stored in Cairo’s Ben Ezra synagogue. It contained around 300,000 items, some of them over a thousand years old.

The Genizah reveals that even in the Middle Ages, the Jews of Cairo (then known as Fustat) would send Hanukkah letters and greetings to one another. One such greeting contained a variation of a well-known Hanukkah blessing which is still in use today: “He who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days and in this month, will perform miracles and wonders for us and for your people”. We have collected a few more greetings and wishes that can be found in the Cairo Genizah to share with you this holiday season.

Part of a letter in Judeo-Arabic. The author sends greetings to the addressee and other relatives. “Afchal al-salam” (peace be upon him), and wishes to send his peace (‘salami’) “Le-lamuli (to my master) al-Sheich Ya’qub Shatz, al-Sheich Taher, ve-seir al-sahab (and the rest of the members).”


One of these dates to the mid-11th century: an invitation sent by a man to an honored friend for a Hanukkah event: “…that we shall meet tomorrow in the synagogue.” He added, “God will put the days of Hanukkah upon him and all that he has, as a sign of good and a sign of blessing.”


“God will put the days of Hanukkah upon him and all that he has, as a sign of good and a sign of blessing.”


Another fragment of a letter, written in Judeo-Arabic, reads, “Bada al-ayyam al-sharifa (During these honorable days), al-mukhtazah al-mahawdeh b-elnasim (well-known and recognized for miracles)…He who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time…”


“Bada al-ayyam al-sharifa al-mukhtazah al-mahawdeh b-elnasim…” (During these honorable days well-known and recognized for miracles…)

It was a great sin to allow anyone to spend the holiday alone, without family. In a letter sent by a man by the name of Yosef to one of his relatives, he wrote: “V-ana akool anani etzel el-eichem alei el-Hanukkah (and I say that I will come to you in honor of Hanukkah).”


“V-ana akool anani etzel el-eichem alei el-Hanukkah” (And I say that I will come to you in honor of Hanukkah).”


Happy Hanukkah!


The first two letters are currently part of the Cambridge University collections – TS10J 14.9 & TS8J22.7. The third is located at the JTS Library- ENANS 2.5. The letter which mentions the Hanukkah family visit is part of the Lewis-Gibson Collection, LIT2.140

The Story of the Chanukah Classic “I Have a Little Dreidel”

The classic song about the traditional four-sided top has become a staple in early childhood Jewish education.  

Illustration by Iza Hershkovitz

For those who grew up within Jewish tradition or for those familiar with Jewish music, there are several songs that seem to have been around forever. Included on that list is one song that is often taught to children ahead of the holiday of Chanukah to get them into the spirit of the season.

The song “I Have a Little Dreidel” describes the creation of the four-sided spinning top that is used to play the traditional game of dreidel during the Festival of Lights. With its catchy, cheerful and spirited tune and simple to remember lyrics, the song quickly became a holiday classic.

The Lyrics:

I have a little dreidel,  I made it out of clay.
And when it’s dry and ready, oh dreidel I shall play.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, oh dreidel I shall play.

It has a lovely body, with legs so short and thin.
When it is all tired, it drops and then I win.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, oh dreidel I shall play.

My dreidel’s always playful. It loves to dance and spin.
A happy game of dreidel, come play now let’s begin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, oh dreidel I shall play.

Interestingly enough, according to research by Professor Eliyahu Schleifer, this song was composed by Shmuel Eliezer Goldfarb, the brother of the famous Conservative Rabbi Israel Goldfarb who composed another classic and seemingly timeless Jewish melody, “Shalom Aleichem,” that is traditionally sung on Friday nights to welcome in the Shabbat.

Rabbi Israel Goldfarb was a rabbi and educator in New York who worked for the Young Israel movement. His mission was to renew Jewish liturgy and ceremonies in America using traditional musical motifs. Shmuel Eliezer Goldfarb, his brother, served as the Director of the Music Education Ministry on the Jewish Education Council in New York. This gave Shmuel the opportunity to promote the teaching of music in local schools. The two musical brothers collaborated to promote the teaching of Jewish music and from 1918 to 1929 they published books and pamphlets that compiled different songs to use for various holidays and occasions.

Hanukkah celebrations in Raanana in 1948. From the PhotoHouse archive. Photo taken by Rudi Weissenstein.
Chanukah celebrations in Raanana in 1948. From the PhotoHouse archive. Photo by Rudi Weissenstein.

Their joint effort came to an end with the start of the Great Depression. Israel stayed in his rabbinical position, but Shmuel Eliezer moved across the country to Seattle where he served for 38 years, from 1930 to 1968, as music director and choir conductor at the Reform synagogue, Temple De Hirsch Sinai.

Shmuel is most famous for his composition of the song “I Have a Little Dreidel.” The melody was first taught in Seattle schools and then spread across the country, becoming a fixture in early childhood Jewish education and a classic part of the Chanukah repertoire in North America.

Shmuel Eliezer Goldfarb passed away ten years after retiring from his position at Temple De Hirsch Sinai in 1978, leaving behind a legacy of poetry and music.

drediel dance
Chanukah celebrations in Raanana in 1948. From the PhotoHouse archive. Photo by Rudi Weissenstein.

“I Have a Little Dreidel,” is also available in Yiddish. The Yiddish version entitled “Ich Bin a Kleyner Dreydl,” was written by Shmuel Shlomo Grossman. While the melody of the Yiddish version of the dreidel song is similar to the English version, the lyrics differ with the Yiddish song describing a dreidel made of lead instead of clay and as the dreidel spins, the people join in and spin as well.

The Yiddish version reads:

Ich bin a kleiner dreidel, gemacht bin ich fun blai.
Kumt lomir ale schpilen, in dreidel – eins zwei drai.
Oi, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, oi, drei sich, dreidel, drei.
To lomir ale schpilen, in dreidel eins un zwei

Un ich hob lib zu tanzen, sich dreien in a rod
To lomir ale tanzen, a dreidel-karahod.
Oi, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, oi, drei sich, dreidel, drei.
To lomir ale schpilen, in dreidel eins un zwei.

Which in English reads:

I am a little dreidel, I am made from lead.
Come let’s all play dreidel – one two three.
Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, oh, dreidel, dreidel, spin.
So let’s all play dreidel, one and two.

And I love to dance, to spin in a circle.
So let’s all dance a dreidel-circle.
Oh, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, oh dreidel, dreidel, spin.
So let’s all play dreidel, one and two.

Both versions of the song express the fun and happiness that comes with the annual celebration of the Festival of Lights and the joyful experience that awaits all who sit down for a good rousing game of dreidel.

Special thanks to Dr. Gila Flam, Head of the music department: music collection and sound archive and music reading room, for her help in writing this article.


The Magnificent Polish Synagogue That Was Destroyed in World War I

In 1768, a unique wooden synagogue was constructed in the town of Sniadowo. These images are the last ones that were taken before the building burned to the ground.


Facade of the synagogue in Sniadowo

On Erev Rosh Hashanah, 5674 (September 30, 1913), Konrad Kłos, architect and historian of Polish architecture, arrived in Sniadowo to photograph the town’s historic, wooden synagogue. He captured the synagogue from many angles. He photographed the bima (main platform), the dome, the balcony, the two women’s sections, and the painted walls. He also captured the men and women of the Jewish community and a few cows grazing in the nearby meadow.

Situated on the banks of the Narbek River in Poland, the synagogue in Sniadowo was built in 1768 and its fame was spread far beyond its wooden walls. Klos photographed the synagogue as part of a project to document important architectural buildings throughout Poland, an initiative he created with fellow architect and friend, Oskar Sosnowski.

Facade of the synagogue from the north-west.

The synagogue in Sniadowo boasted a large organized Jewish community. It was part of a group of unusual synagogues built in northern Poland in the 17th and early 18th centuries. The walls were painted and decorated on the inside. This was unusual because of the Jewish prohibition of displaying pictures and sculptures as a part of the laws banning the practice of idolatry.

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During this time period, in certain Jewish communities – Germany, for example – decoration of the interior of synagogues was forbidden in order to avoid distraction from prayer. In Poland, however, there was a more forgiving attitude towards decorative flourishes. The sages and rabbis of Poland were asked about the issue and had a mixture of responses. Rabbi Avraham Avali ben Haim Gombiner, known as ‘Magen Avraham,’ suggested that painting on the walls of the synagogue should be permitted, but not at eye level of the congregants and in this way no one would actually be praying in front of the paintings. Others, like Rabbi Akiva Eiger of Pozna, were supportive only of paintings that depicted flora and other plant-life.

A photograph that focuses on the top of the bima. Here we see the wooden walls of the synagogue from the inside.
A photograph of that focuses on the interior of the dome that appears to have been photographed from the attic.

The Jews in Poland did not have their own tradition of building and therefore adopted models and techniques that were common in the area. Together with the contractors, they constructed buildings and then expanded them as necessary. The original synagogue in Sniadowo was built as a square (the inner space and prayer hall), and other sections were added on later. The synagogue featured a “broken” roof, causing it to look as if it were made of several levels. Along the outside edges were towers, and the building itself housed historical “galleries,” as well as carved balconies and handrails. The facades, dome, and balconies were all ornately decorated.

Details of the synagogue roof and the entrance to the women’s section.

In the center of the Sniadowo synagogue stood the bima, upon which the structure of the dome was erected as a kind of Hupa. Unfortunately, the names of the architects, builders, and artists who built and decorated the synagogue are unknown to us today, but one can still be impressed by the beauty of the synagogue through the spectacular photographs taken by Klos in 1913.

A photograph from the balcony on the second floor of the synagogue

At the end of the nineteenth century, there were approximately 1,300 Jews in Sniadowo. During the First World War, the synagogue was burned to the ground and the Supreme Commander of the Russian Army ordered the expulsion of the Jewish inhabitants from the town. Jews emigrated to other cities and other countries. By 1921, only 386 Jews remained in Sniadowo. The population managed to recover somewhat and grew to 869 men, women and children leading up to the events of World War II.

The end of dwindling Jewish life in the town arrived with the German occupation in June 1941. Some of Sniadowo’s Jews were seized and executed on the spot. The rest were sent to the Lomza ghetto on the way to their final destination. They arrived in the Auschwitz extermination camp in January 1943.

The facade of the synagogue from the east and the fence surrounding the courtyard.

Almost all of the wooden synagogues in Poland were destroyed during the Holocaust. These photographs stand as rare documentation and a memory of the wooden synagogue which, just several months after these images were captured, was completely destroyed in the chaos of First World War. They are a glimpse into the Jewish center of Sniadowo at the height of its glory and a testament to hundreds of years of Jewish life in Poland.

The photographs were found in the archives of Rabbi and researcher Shmuel Poznanski. 

Thank you very much to Dr. Gil Weisblei for your help in writing this article.