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Israeli court ends trial of Kafka papers

After a long, tangled journey that Franz Kafka could have written about himself, an unseen treasure of writings by the surrealist author will be put on display and later online, an Israeli court has ruled.

Ownership of the papers had been in dispute after the Israeli National Library claimed them, over the wishes of two sisters who inherited the vast collection of rare documents from their mother and insisted on keeping them.

The ruling by Tel Aviv District Family Court ordered the collection to be transferred to the library in Jerusalem, which had argued that Max Brod, Kafka's close friend, bequeathed the manuscripts to the library in his will.

The two sisters, Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler, inherited the documents from their mother, Brod's secretary, and had been storing them in a Tel Aviv apartment and bank vaults.

Kafka, a Jewish Prague native who wrote in German, is known for his dark tales of everyman protagonists crushed by mysterious authorities or twisted by unknown shames. His works have become classics, like The Metamorphosis, in which a salesman wakes up transformed into a giant insect, and The Trial, where a bank clerk is put through an excruciating trial without being told the charges against him.

The trove is said to include Brod's personal diary and some of Kafka's writings, including correspondence the two kept with other notable writers, which could shed new light on one of literature's most influential figures.

The German Literary Archive was not part of the legal proceedings but backed the sisters' claims, hoping to purchase the manuscripts and arguing that they belonged in Germany.

Ulrich Raulff, who heads the archive, said the papers have drawn great interest because they are likely to reveal much about the years in Kafka's life that the public knows little about.

"I hope that the Israeli National Library will provide open access to the material for the public as soon as possible," he said. "Researchers have been waiting for the material with excitement for years already."

Kafka gave his writings to Brod shortly before his own death from tuberculosis in 1924, instructing his friend to burn everything unread. But Brod instead published most of the material, including novels The Trial, The Castle and Amerika.

Aviad Stollman, Judaica Collections Curator at the National Library, said the majority of the manuscripts are by Brod not Kafka, but that they contain tremendous research and sentimental value.

"For decades these manuscripts were hidden and now we can display and preserve them under proper conditions," he told Israel's Channel 2 TV.

"There are 40,000 pages, a tremendous amount," he added. "Whoever loves Kafka will be able to see his signature and notes and crossings outs. We hope the material will be on the library's website soon."

Despite the ruling, Ms Hoffe will be entitled for royalties from any future publication of the documents.

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