William & Mary

The Verdict

Jonathan Tuttle, Cataloging and Metadata Librarian Picture of Kafka's Der Prozess

Beginning in 2008, the author of everyone’s favorite casebook, The Trial, became involved in a trial himself, one that only ended last fall.

Before his death in 1924 Franz Kafka famously instructed his friend Max Brod to burn his remaining manuscripts, an instruction Brod famously rejected. In 1939, after Germany invaded, Brod fled Czechoslovakia for Palestine, carrying a suitcase of material that included some of Kafka’s work.

Brod died in 1968 and left the unpublished Kafka papers to his secretary, Esther Hoffe, who, rather than release them herself, kept them in her Tel Aviv apartment as well as safe-deposit boxes in Israel and Switzerland. Before dying in 2007, Hoffe passed them on to her daughters. 

The National Library of Israel however argued in court that the papers were never meant as a gift for Hoffe but as a trust ultimately intended for a public Israeli institution. Judge Talia Kopelman Pardo eventually ruled last October in favor of the library, upsetting scholars who thought the papers belonged in Germany or Prague. The library plans to publish all of the papers online, while Hoffe’s surviving daughter plans to appeal the decision.

Where should an author’s papers reside after his or her death? Was Brod even right to publish Kafka’s papers in the first place?

Anyone interested in these questions or in cultural property law generally should seek out library materials under the subject heading “Cultural property” or “Wills." And anyone interested in a good read beside the beautiful second floor windows of the law library should peruse The Trial: A Graphic Novel, as well as those works that influenced Kafka, the labyrinthine legal stories of Dickens and Dostoevsky.

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