The Kafka Project seeks to find the lost work of the writer Franz Kafka, and marks the third search for this missing literary treasure. The first attempt was made in 1933 by Kafka’s literary executor Max Brod in Prague and the Czech cultural attache in Berlin, Camille Hoffman. The second attempt, conducted by Max Brod in Israel and Kafka scholar and publisher Klaus Wagenbach in Berlin in the 1950s ended in 1961 when the Berlin Wall went up and the paper trail led beyond the "Iron Curtain." With the reunification of Germany in 1990 and subsequent opening of archives in former Communist Central and Eastern European states, and with new protocols for recovering Holocaust-era assets established in 1998, the renewed search for Kafka's missing papers became possible.
Kafka's lost papers consist of 35 letters written to Dora Diamant in 1923 and 1924, and up to 20 notebooks, used for journals, sketches, thoughts and ideas, written during the last year of his life. In addition, the Kafka Project is searching for 70 letters Dora Diamant wrote to Max Brod between 1925-1952, which include her last will and testament, were cataloged in the 1980s but still remain lost.
- In January 1997, the Kafka Project was initiated with a consent letter with permission to conduct the official search for Kafka's missing papers on behalf of the Kafka Estate in London. In March of the same year, a petition was filed with the Bundesbeauftragte, the German government "Foundation for the Political and Historic Resolution of the National Socialist Past.
- In 1998 the Kafka Project expanded to include the missing papers of Dora Diamant, 70 letters, postcards, telegrams and correspondence between 1924 and 1952, believed to be in the Brod Collection in Israel. In March 1998, the SDSU Research Foundation became the Kafka Project's academic home and non-profit fiscal receiver. June 1-September 30, 1998, a team of volunteers and assistants from the United States, England and Germany researched archives, libraries, civil record offices and cultural institutions. The Kafka Project makes detailed notes of the Nazi and SED files. In September 1998, German State archives classify the project as "official scientific research" and an archivist is assigned to the case.
- Since 1999, we have accessed or found the following: Dora's Comintern files from Moscow; her internment file from the Isle of Man; two diaries written in the last year of her life; her published Yiddish articles from London; and dozens of letters to friends and family. By tracing Dora, items of Kafka's have been found.
- In 2001, Kafka's hairbrush was discovered in Israel.
- In 2004, three original Kafka letters were found in private hands in California and copies made for the Kafka Critical Edition Archive at Wuppertal.
- Based largely on the results of the Kafka Project, Kafka's Last Love: The Mystery of Dora Diamant was published in the US and UK in 2003. Since then, the book has appeared in twelve additions, including translations into Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Albanian, and Turkish.
- In summer 2008, a second month-long Kafka Project research trip in Poland developed collaborative research efforts with the University of Silesia and the National Library in Silesia, but yielded no further information on captured German documents in the eastern territories.
- In 2012, a five-week residency as an Eastern European Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in
Washington DC, resulted in confirmation that all remaining captured German documents during WWII were taken by the Red Army to Moscow. The Kafka Project would now have to focus on uncatalogued archives returned from Russia to East Germany in the 1960s.
- In 2013, a secret, uncataloged archive known as Section 9/XI returned to Berlin in the 1960s was uncovered in Berlin.
- In 2015, following a meeting in London with Michael Steiner, Kafka’s great-nephew and executive director of the Kafka Estate, Dr. Hans-Gerd Koch of the Kafka Critical Archive in Wuppertal, and Dr. Peter Andre Alt, former president, Free University, Berlin, took the lead for the Kafka Project in Berlin.
- In 2019, Dr. Hans-Gerd Koch publishes results of his Kafka Project research in Sueddeutsche Zeitung, calling for federal assistance from the Ministry of Culture to catalog Section 9/XI.
- In 2023, Dr. Christoph Geis becomes project lead and is currently conducting research in the Koblenz Bundesarchiv. The Kafka Project moves from the SDSU CAL Dean's Office to the Department of European Studies.
Future Plans and Goals
Since a pandemic-forced hiatus, the Kafka Project is reorganizing for a new approach to secure funding to uncover and catalog archives containing German documents confiscated by the Gestapo in 1933.