Kafka's manuscripts are Israeli property: court

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israel's Supreme Court has ruled that Franz Kafka's manuscripts are the property of the National Library of Israel, ending a lengthy legal battle, judicial sources said on Monday.

The nation's top court on Sunday rejected an appeal by the heirs of Max Brod, a friend of Kafka and the executor of his estate to whom he had willed his manuscripts after his death in 1924.

Kafka had instructed Brod to burn the manuscripts after his death but his friend did not honour that request and took them with him when he fled the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 and emigrated to Palestine.

On his death in 1968, Brod bequeathed the papers to his secretary Esther Hoffe, with instructions to give them to the "Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the municipal library in Tel Aviv or another organisation in Israel or abroad". But Hoffe, who died in 2007, instead kept them and shared them between her two daughters - sparking multiple legal battles.

In the trial against Hoffe's heirs, which began in 2009, the state of Israel demanded they hand over all the documents, which included unpublished writings, arguing it was Brod's last will.

Hoffe's daughters refused, however, saying the papers - estimated to be worth millions of dollars - had been given to their mother by Brod and therefore she could dispose of them any way she wanted.

"Max Brod did not want his property to be sold at the best price, but for them to find an appropriate place in a literary and cultural institution," the Supreme Court said in its ruling.

Hoffe had during her lifetime sold the original manuscript of "The Trial" - considered by some to be one of Kafka's best work - for US$2 million (S$2.7 million).

The Hoffe family kept the bulk of the collection locked away in bank safety deposit boxes in Israel and Switzerland and over the years sold some papers to collectors.