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Middle East

Israeli court rejects plea to keep Kafka papers secret

An Israeli court has ruled that papers once belonging to Franz Kafka be made public for the first time.

The unpublished works of the late Czech author have been hidden from the world for more than 40 years, and are the subject of a bitterly-contested ownership wrangle.

Tel Aviv's family court rejected a request for a gag order to prevent publication of the documents, ruling separately that the papers, stored in vaults in Israel and Switzerland, should be made public, with the exception of private papers.

It is believed the papers, including correspondence between Kafka and his mentor, Max Brod, may include an unseen manuscript by the author who penned the celebrated works The Trial and The Metamorphosis.

The ruling comes days after Israel's Supreme Court ordered that the deposit boxes containing Kafka's papers be opened, allowing temporary access to lawyers and manuscript experts. Kafka's papers have been the subject of an ownership dispute over the past two years between the Hoffe family and Israel's National Library.

Shortly before his death, when he was a little-known Jewish writer, Kafka left his collection of unpublished documents to his close friend, Max Brod, insisting that they all be destroyed unread. Mr Brod did not heed his wishes, and published works by Kafka that propelled the Czech into the annals of literary greats.

As Hitler prepared to invade Czechoslovakia in 1938, Brod fled to Israel with the bulk of the Kafka papers stuffed into a suitcase. After his death in 1968, the documents passed into the hands of Ester Hoffe, his secretary and rumoured lover.

After Mrs Hoffe's death two years ago, her daughters, Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler, claimed they were the rightful inheritors, and said they planned to sell the papers to the German Literary Archive in Marbach.

The proposal infuriated Israel, which regards the Kafka papers as part of its national heritage.