BookThink: It had to be very moving for you to know that Dora's long unmarked grave finally has a headstone, largely due to your efforts. Tell us how this came about.
Diamant: In 1998, when I made contact with Dora's nephew, Zvi Diamant, and told him where she was buried and the appalling news that she was buried in an unmarked grave, he was horrified. He had tried to find her and didn't know where she was. I assured him that I fully intended to put a memorial there and that, as soon as the book sold, I would purchase a marker. He said, "It is decided. We will not wait. You name the date, and I'll pay for the stone." We agreed to hold a stone-setting ceremony on August 15, 1999, the 47th anniversary of Dora's death.
Based on information leading up to this event, we found Dora's sister in Israel. That whole branch of the family was reunited and Zvi came to know his cousins and his aunt. New relatives are still turning up. Last year, a new cousin was discovered in Denmark. Actually, that cousin helped me understand what this was all about. When we met for the first time, she gave me a beautiful silver heart necklace and let me know how much it meant to her to have gone from being an orphan and a victim to someone who was surrounded by family in Israel. And I thought, "That's it, that's what it was all about."
This occurred in February of last year at the book launch party in London, which was also the first gathering of the Kafka and Diamant families since Kafka's funeral. That evening was a definitive experience because everyone there (about 125 people) were able to experience the real life connection to Dora that exists right now. As I said before, we are all connected, regardless of blood or birth. And to have that moment coalesce was wonderful.
BookThink: Your book has received excellent reviews from the critics. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and found myself swept up in the nuance and detail of the story. Your travel and research for this book was extensive, to say the least. What was the most intriguing or surprising discovery for you during your research for this book?
Diamant: There were so many. Finding Dora's grave. Finding Dora's photographs in Berlin was truly overwhelming - when I saw these 60 photographs. It was shortly before I left Berlin, and through a series of coincidences, I was having lunch with a member of the Lask family. Dora's husband had been a Lask, and this was her great niece. She brought three family photo albums with her, and, as I looked at these, she must have thought I was insane because I cried and couldn't stop crying. I cried for about three days. This was one of the painful aspects of the book - choosing only 13 photographs of the 60, because there were many incredible photographs. Finding Dora's family. Finding Kafka's hairbrush, which is the only personal item of his that is known to exist.
The thing that surprised me the most was the fact that there were so many records of her in the Nazi archives, that there was documentation and that the papers that were missing could be traced. And we still don't even know what's out there. I was only in those archives for one month. I was there for two months before I was granted access. I looked at all I could within that period of time, but there were other trails to follow which I didn't have the time or financial resources to complete.
One of the most surprising things is that my book included, for the first time in English, the actual account of Kafka's death. With all the biographies that have been written on Kafka, no one had written exactly what happened at the end of his life. This story was available - it had been published in a German newspaper in 1953 - but no one had included this incredible, beautiful ending in his biographies. Dora had been taken out of it. This has now been rectified, and Dora is finding her place back in history. Dora thought it was important to look at Kafka as a human being and understand that what he was trying to say in his writing was not to be hopeless and give up. The worst possible thing that you could take away from the message of Kafka was that he was pessimistic. Instead he left us better armed to storm the great wall.
BookThink: Are you still on the trail of lost Kafka material and do you believe that undiscovered works of Kafka will someday turn up?
Diamant: Yes. I had to undertake the search regardless of whether or not we would find anything. The search was valuable in and of its own sake because even if we didn't find the missing Kafka papers, we would have exhausted all possible avenues, and that chapter could then be closed. As one London literary critic said, until these items are found, this is a still-open chapter in Kafka's life and his literary history. Seeing for myself how the Nazis documented and saved everything and saved it in triplicate, I believe that with time and a concerted effort by a number of people, we can find more.
For example, I have already uncovered four original Kafka letters. The letters were written to Ludwig Hardt, an actor, and mention Dora. Last year I gave a talk at a synagogue and somebody bought my book to give to a friend. A couple of weeks later, the man who had received the book contacted me. His mother was the last companion of Ludwig Hart, and he had inherited these letters. They were in his attic. I did what I could to help make them part of the public record. The University of the German Literature Archives at Marbach made an offer that he accepted. Unfortunately, it was summertime and everyone at Marbach went on vacation for eight weeks, without acknowledging the deal. Meanwhile, the auction houses were calling this old gentleman and pressing him to sell, and he finally buckled under the pressure. Now the letters are in private hands, and I'm not sure who has them. Part of the Kafka Project should be to make sure that doesn't happen again. There were the four letters and one of Kafka's favorite books inscribed by him to Ludwig Hart, all of which sold for a lot of money. So, the answer to your question is this: If I'm finding Kafka letters in San Diego, anything is possible.
BookThink: Tell us about the Kafka Project at San Diego State University.
Diamant: The Kafka Project is the third search for Kafka's missing writings and the first conducted since the 1950s. Following the collapse of Communism and the opening of the archives in Eastern Europe, the search once again became possible. The first search by Max Brod in Berlin 1933 is documented in my book. The second search was conducted by Klaus Wagenbach in Berlin with Max Brod in Israel following the Second World War. Their search ended at the Iron Curtain, when they were told by the Chief of Police in that the papers were possibly on deposit in Silesia, an area of Czechoslovakia and Poland.
Part of my goal has been not to duplicate any efforts, to make it a large and extended project, involving as many people as possible. At its height in Berlin in 1998, the Kafka Project had three translators, one assistant, and several volunteers. I had gotten grants, held fund-raisers and put in my own money to move the project forward. Since then I have had to find other ways to raise money for the Kafka Project. Now I do it through my book talks. For example, I am giving a talk on Tuesday to the Brandeis University National Women's Committee. Last year I bought and donated 500 of my books to the Kafka Project, and these books are sold after my talks to help fund the project. I have two websites: www.kathidiamant.com and www.kafkaproject.com. The Kafka Project site is being redesigned to hold all the data and research and reports on line so that anyone can look at what's been accomplished. I want people to get involved in the research. For example, someone who is going to Poland on vacation might also want to deliver Kafka Project bulletins to archival centers and government depositories while they are there.
BookThink: I am quoting a passage from your book now which is bound to be of interest to book collectors: "Only a few copies of The Castle sold when it was first published. Seventy years later, in 1996, in an antiquarian bookshop in Amsterdam, a Dutch Kafka scholar discovered a rare first edition of The Castle. On the overleaf of the book was an inscription dated 1929, which read: 'To the wonderful couple, Hela and Walter Gohlstein,' and was signed 'Dora Dymant-Kafka.' Nothing further is known of the couple, but the book was priced at $350." Was this the original 1926 edition (Das Schloss)? I assume the Dutch scholar purchased the book. Is it still in private hands?
Diamant: It was a first edition, and the Dutch scholar did not buy the book, as he didn't have the money for it. I asked him the same question (what happened to it) and he didn't know. It's out there, somewhere.
The original manuscript for The Trial sold at auction for a million dollars a few years ago. There's another whole book to be written about what's happened to Kafka's manuscripts - their journey from Prague to Tel Aviv to Zurich to Oxford, the intrigue, the double-dealing, the literary backstabbing, the removal from one archive and spiriting it away to another by scholars.
BookThink: You have had a very interesting and diversified career, Kathi. Television, theatre, travel, adjunct professor, public speaker, journalism, extensive research, the list goes on, and now a successful book. What accomplishment are you most proud of and is there any unfulfilled dream you have that you might share with us?
Diamant: When I took my first research trip for Dora back in 1985, I had a nightmarish experience in Israel. I left, taking the first plane out of the country, and went to Greece where a friend was living in Athens. She was a Jungian psychologist and invited me to go that night with her to hear Joseph Campbell speak on the subject of The Odyssey and the role of myth in our lives. I'd never heard of him, but I went along with her. And Joseph Campbell explained it all for me. I was able to see my search for Dora within the hero's journey, and the point of the hero's journey is the quest to bring back the boon, the lasting good for the community. I realized that my job was not only to tell Dora's story but to make sure it brought something good to light. This guided my journey and helped me see the purpose of it, not just to me personally, but to the world. From Joseph Campbell I learned the importance of discovering what brings about the flowering of our humanity. That's my dream, to continue discovering what brings about the flowering of my humanity - and living that way.
BookThink: Can we look forward to another book from you in the future?
Diamant: I would still like to tell the story of how I learned about Dora and the coincidences that connected us. The working title is "Finding Dora, Getting Kafka." If I find the missing Kafka papers, I won't have to worry about getting a publisher for the book. But another book is not the first thing on my plate right now. There's the documentary and perhaps a film. As Kafka once said, "as long as you keep climbing there will be stairs, they will magically appear under your climbing feet." That's what my process is now - to keep climbing and looking forward to the next opportunity that comes my way.
Kafka's Last Love: The Mystery of Dora Diamant, published by Basic Books, NY, 2003; Secker & Warburg, UK, 2003; in paperback by Vintage/Random House in August 2004; and published by Circe/Oceano, Barcelona, Spain, 2005.
Contributor: Hot Chocolate for the Mystical Soul: 101 True Stories of Angels, Miracles, and Healing, published 1998 by Plume.
Contributor: ABC Agents Gazeteers, 1993-1996. (Travel Agents' guide published annually in UK).
Kathi Diamant has also written articles for Real Woman, a national publication on women's health issues; SDSU Magazine, quarterly of San Diego State University; Zoonooz, monthly publication of Zoological Society of San Diego; Koala Club, San Diego Zoological Society's children's magazine; Journeywoman, an adventure/travel journal and online magazine; and newspapers including The San Francisco Chronicle, New York Post, Washington Times, Houston Post, and more, covering travel, arts, entertainer/celebrity profiles, adventure, health and fitness.
Purchase Kathi's book here:
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