Call for Czechs to reclaim lost literary heritage by buying Franz Kafka letters

Franz Kafka

Preparations are being made to recover what is being dubbed a part of the lost literary heritage of Prague and the Czech Republic. These are some of the many letters written by world renowned author Franz Kafka of which almost no examples are left in his homeland.

Franz Kafka
Czech-German writer Franz Kafka spent most of his life in Prague and his last years in what was then Czechoslovakia. As well as his three main novels, The Trial, The Castle and The Metamorphosis, he was an inveterate writer of letters to those close to him. Unfortunately hardly anything in his original hand remains in his homeland. That is something the Prague-based Franz Kafka Society is now seeking to remedy.

The opportunity to do so could come up at a sale in a famous Berlin auction house next month. Under the hammer will be around 100 letters and other correspondence between Franz Kafka and his youngest sister, Ottla. The society has made a call on the culture minister, foreign minister and governor of the national bank, amongst others, to secure the letters for the nation.

Markéta Mališová is director of the society.

Franz Kafka with his sister Ottla
“Kafka’s deepest feelings were written down. If you want to get a rounded picture of Kafka then you can get it through his letters. They are not just messages but literary compositions and examples of his carefully honed phrases and extraordinary impressions. You can find all that in his letters. I would recommended them; his letters to his friends, Max Brod and sister Ottla. It is an inseparable part of Kafka’s work.”

These letters are believed to have made their way out of the country, like most of the rest of the author’s literary legacy, in the 1960s. As a Jew his works were banned by the Nazis and found little favour amidst the latent anti-Semitism of the Communist regime in the 1950’s.

“Kafka was a very neglected author here. I could almost say that he was banned. Everything that was available gradually disappeared or was taken away. There was nothing stored, there was no archive. Here in the Czech Republic there are just a few official documents by him, maybe one or two letters, I’m not sure. But basically everything in his hand was taken away and is now in private collections or in the German literary archive in Marbach.”

Kafka's letter to his father
But the bidding is expected to be fierce for the collection of Kafka letters given the worldwide international interest from collectors and institutions. Estimates range from 500,000 to 700,000 euros for the lot. In an age of austerity can Czech public finances afford to make a bid for the letters. Markéta Mališová prefers to flip that question by asking can the Czech Republic afford not to acquire them.

“Kafka is like a cultural monument of the nation and Prague. When you look for the cultural personalities of our country, the representatives of our country culturally abroad, I would say it is Franz Kafka, Antonín Dvořák, and Václav Havel. I would say these are the ones you most hear about in the world.”