Dora Diamant: Kafka's Last Love

Dora Diamant in 1928

In today’s edition of the Arts we meet American scholar Kathi Diamant, who has spent years researching and writing about her namesake – Dora Diamant. Dora was a Polish émigré living in Berlin when she met Czech writer Franz Kafka for the first time in 1923. She became the great novelist’s last lover – spending the final eleven months of his life with him in a shared Berlin flat. Kathi Diamant has just written a book about Dora, titled ‘Kafka’s Last Love’. She spoke to Radio Prague’s Anna Kubišta about how she originally became interested in the topic:

“I was 19 years old in a German language literature class in university and we were translating Metamorphosis by Kafka. And the professor interrupted our class, looked right at me and asked: Fraulein Diamant are you related to Dora Diamant? He then wrote Dora’s name on the blackboard and it was spelt the same way as my name. And at that point I hadn’t met anyone outside of my own family with the same last name. So I said, ‘oh yes, we are probably related’ and I promised to find out and let him know. But all these years later, with everything I have discovered about Dora, and everything I was able to find out about Kafka, I never found out if we were related. That original question was never answered.”

What did you find out exactly about her that nobody knew before?

“Well, I found out what became of her after Kafka’s life in more detail. Ernst Powell in his book in 1984 was able to fill in some of the basic highlights: that she had escaped Berlin and had gone to Moscow, that she had married a member of the East German Communist Party and she had had a daughter, that she had escaped from Moscow and arrived (via Holland) in England where she was arrested as an enemy alien and sent to Isle of Man. For the rest of her life, she worked for as a promoter of Yiddish, helping keep the Yiddish language alive.

“What I was able to find out were all the details in between. I did so by talking to everybody who had met her, by finding her letters, her published writings and then ultimately by discovering her family members and being able to reunite them.”

You were talking about your professor who said that Dora Diamant burned Kafka’s works. Is that really true?

“Dora said she had burned some of Kafka’s writings at his insistence as he lay dying. But the vast majority she did not burn. I am sure she did not burn any of her letters that he had written her. She told Max Brod, however, that she had burned everything, when he began collecting all of his letters and diaries and writings. She lied. She said she had burnt everything to protect Kafka from publication. It was impossible, she wrote in a letter to Brod, to understand Kafka unless he was there to explain. She also realized that this was a very petty and small position to take but she still clung to it for another three years, until the papers were confiscated during a Gestapo raid of her flat. At that point she confessed her lie, and hysterical, filled with remorse, she begged Brod to get these papers back.

“That was the first search for these missing papers. But it was not a time when it was possible to get those papers back. It was after the war was over and Brod, now living in Tel-Aviv, worked with then a young German Kafka scholar named Klaus Wagenbach and they were told that the papers were probably in Silesia, in a train transport taken out of Berlin during the Allied bombings and placed for safekeeping in the Eastern territories, specifically Silesia. So those papers may still be in an archive, a basement, warehouse somewhere, still waiting to be discovered and found.”

How do you intend to find them?

“In 1998 I got permission from the Kafka Estate in London to begin the search on the family’s behalf. I went first to Berlin to find any documentation in the archives there and I did find the proof of the confiscation of Dora’s property and the finance office responsible for receiving it. I also found out many facts about Dora and her family that led to new discoveries.

“At the end of my search I was told by the German government not to give up. That it would be two to ten years before the government knew where all these archives might be throughout Eastern Europe and that than perhaps we could start the search again. This year it’s ten years so I have returned and what we have in order to try and find these papers is a Kafka Project Alert that has been translated into Czech, Polish, Slovak and German which we will hand out at archives, warehouses, basements, town halls and libraries in towns in the region, so that we can pinpoint where these deposits may be. The last two weeks of the research will be spent driving around to these towns and handing out these alerts that identify what’s missing. And whether I find out anything or not, it is still vital that this search is conducted.

Franz Kafka
“My experience has been that when I look I find much more that I even knew existed. I might not find what I thought I was looking for. But I found for example Dora’s missing family members so separated by the Holocaust that they didn’t even know about each other and they lived within ten miles of each other.

What do we know about what they shared, Kafka and Dora?

“Max Brod visited Franz and Dora when they were living in Berlin and he described their life together as an idol. Kafka was happy. He was writing and he was filled with optimism. He would do shadow figures on the wall to entertain Dora, he would read to Dora from his books over and over until she knew them by heart. He was a wonderful performer and had a great dramatic ability. She loved to listen and watch him. She also had a dramatic ability, as she became an actress. So they entertained each other and it seemed to be that they had no conflict. Perhaps they did – we don’t have the letters and the notebooks. But from Dora’s memories it was as perfect a relationship as one could have with someone who is dying. And from Max’s point of view, Dora gave Kafka a whole new last chapter of his life.”

The episode featured today was first broadcast on June 20, 2008.