Franz Kafka, by Jan Parik

Franz Kafka, by Jan Parik

Honoring the Birth of a Great Writer

Opening: November 13, 2003

The exhibition "Kafka - Prague" was held to mark the hundred and twentieth anniversary of the birth of Franz Kafka, one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. It consists of portraits of Kafka, his family and friends as well as a photographic portrait of Prague, in 1960-1964, taken by the Czech photographer Jan Parik. The photographs are a selection from an exhibition compiled by J. Parik and held at Beit Hatfutsot in 1980 (one of the Museum's first exhibitions). Parik's camera affords us a glimpse of the unique atmosphere of the ancient city of Prague, where Kafka was born, raised, wrote and spent almost all of his life.


About the writer Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

Franz Kafka with Felice Bauer (1887-1960), during their second engagement, Prague, 1917 Beit Hatfutsot, Visual Documentation Center Courtesy of Klaus Wagenbach, Berlin Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was born into a prosperous Jewish family in Prague. His father, Hermann Kafka, was a forceful man who ruled his family with an iron rod and was contemptuous of the work of Franz, his eldest son, while his mother, Julie (nיe Loewy) tried her best to reconcile the two. This stormy relationship had a strong impact on Kafka's personality.


Kafka had a solitary childhood, since both his brothers died at a very early age. He was six when his sister Elli was born, followed by Valli and Ottla, the youngest, to whom he was the closest. Like most Jewish children in Prague, Kafka was educated in the German language from grade school to university and also wrote in German. Kafka began to write while still in high school, but little remains of his writings of that period. He graduated from the German Karl Ferdinand University at the age of 23 and in 1906 was awarded a doctorate in law.


From 1908-1922, Kafka worked at the Workers' Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia, classifying industrial concerns for insurance purposes and calculating the insurance payments due to workers. The working hours of a government institution, which ended at 2 pm, left him sufficient time for writing. Among his friends were many Jewish intellectuals and artists, including the writer Franz Werfel and the poets Oscar Baum and Albert Ehrenstein. Several of his closest friends were Zionists, including the writer Max Brod and the philosophers Felix Weltsch and Hugo Bergman, who later made their homes in Eretz Israel. Kafka himself began to take an interest in Judaism, to study Hebrew and Jewish history, after a Yiddish theater from Eastern Europe gave performances in Prague in 1910, and made a strong impression on him.


In his diaries, Kafka refers to his desire to marry and raise a family, something he never achieved. He had several relationships with women, including Felice Bauer of Berlin, to whom he was twice engaged, and Milena Jesenska, a Czech writer who translated several of his works into Czech and with whom he conducted an intensive correspondence. In the last year of his life, he met Dora Diamant, a young Zionist from a Hassidic family in Galicia and moved to Berlin to live with her.


Kafka was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1917, when he was 34, and in his last few years he wandered between various sanatoria. The brief period in which he lived with Dora was one of the happiest in his life; his health improved and together they dreamed of moving to Eretz Israel. Franz Kafka died at the age of 41 (June 3 1924) in a TB sanatorium near Vienna and was buried in Prague.


During his lifetime, Kafka was known as a writer chiefly in his circle of friends, and few of his writings were published. In his will he requested that all his unpublished manuscripts be destroyed, but Max Brod, his close friend and literary executor, decided not to carry out this wish. Thus most of Kafka's work was rescued, and was published posthumously. Most of it was published in 1935-1937 in an anthology edited by Brod, including the novels "The Trial" "The Castle" and "America", diaries and letters.


The writings of Kafka, now recognized as one of the great figures in world literature, have been translated into numerous languages and inspired generations of writers, and his unique style has been widely imitated. His work was influenced by his legal training and by the oppressive atmosphere of his place of employment and is imbued with awareness of the injustice of a world in which power and bureaucracy reign. Kafka never imagined that the irrational and anxiety-ridden atmosphere and situations he described, would become universally known as Kafkaesque.


About the photographer Jan Parik

The Czech photographer Jan Parik was born in 1936 in Breslau, Germany (now, Wroclaw, Poland). In 1945 his family moved to Czechoslovakia, where he studied in the Department of Cinematography at the Art Academy of Prague. He worked as a photographer for Czech journals and won renown when his photographs were exhibited and appeared in books of poetry. From 1960 to 1964 he photographed Prague in the spirit of Kafka, and these pictures have been exhibited all over the world and in his book "Kafka and Prague." In 1965 he fled from Czechoslovakia to West Germany after being suspected of anti-communist activity. In Munich and Hamburg he worked for international journals and advertising companies. In 1983 he moved to New York where he worked for several years. He now lives in Prague. A major step towards international recognition came to Parik in 1980 with the exhibition "Kafka-Prague" held at Beit Hatfutsot. It was shown in New York and other places in America, Europe and Australia. In 1984, Parik compiled a new show "Jan Parik: Prague De Kafka," an exhibition held at the Centre George Pompidou in Paris.