How Prague betrayed Franz Kafka

Kafka yearned for Jerusalem.

Jack Engelhard

OpEds Prague
צילום: מתוך האתר האישי

Franz Kafka was always a step ahead. So far as literature, he was the father of the absurd. His heroes are people alienated from the rest of society. His themes center on Man adrift and on the individual’s struggle against mindless bureaucracy. He foresaw the brutal use of machinery.

He foresaw the 20th Century, in other words, and his prophetic mind speaks to us just as sharply to this day. In all cases, the innocent have no chance. In “The Penal Colony,” Kafka presents functionaries proud of their apparatus built to inflict unspeakable pain against the condemned man.

Kafka died in 1924 at the age of 40. His three sisters perished in Hitler’s death camps.
But we are all condemned. “My guiding principle is this,” says the executioner, “guilt is never to be doubted.”

In “The Trial,” the condemned man is never told why he was arrested or what he did wrong.

Surely, then, Kafka envisioned the Holocaust. Kafka died in 1924 at the age of 40. His three sisters perished in Hitler’s death camps.

He was entirely Jewish. His heart wakened for the Holy Land, principally Jerusalem.

Kafka was born in Prague, capital of today’s Czech Republic, and there he did his work that earned him the (posthumous) laurel as a great writer, one of the greatest. In turn, Kafka alone, more than anyone else, illuminated his nation with an enduring torch of greatness.

There can be no mention of Czech Culture, or German Culture (the language in which he wrote), or European Culture, without naming Franz Kafka. That, despite his loathing for his own work. He wanted it all destroyed. His friend Max Brod saved what we have today.

For Kafka, it was never good enough. He demanded perfection. Only he, not the world, saw himself a failure.

On craftsmanship, writers are still learning from him; how to condense 20 pages of thought down to two in the spirit of the Hebrew Bible, where besides the divine planting of each word, even for secular writing the message trimmed to the bone is the most powerful. (Hemingway: “That’s how I learned to write, by reading the Bible.”)

If the term Kafkaesque (a world that makes no sense) has become overused, the man himself, the writer, towers over the Western literary canon.

In Prague, he is honored with museums and statues. Gratitude for so noble a native son, one might think.

Who then is Khaled el-Atrash? He is the “Palestinian” ambassador to Prague. Yes, there is such a thing. Khaled was unhappy that the atlas used in schools throughout the Czech Republic (correctly) featured Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He complained to the Czech Ministry of Education. He demanded that Jerusalem be replaced for Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem has been holy to the Jews for thousands of years -- it’s in the Bible and in all the ancient maps and books -- even before King David stamped it as the eternal capital of the Jewish State some 3,000 years ago. Jerusalem (never mentioned explicitly in the Koran) became desirable to Palestinian Arabs only after it was recaptured and reunited by the Israelis in 1967.  

So it was a coin toss between Franz Kafka, the pride of Prague, and a terrorist – and the terrorist won.

Jerusalem was expunged according to the wishes of Mr. Khaled, who thanked the Czech ministers for their speedy compliance. This is now been rethought, but that thought should never have seen the light of day.

Only Kafka could have imagined a double-cross so treacherously absurd.

New York-based bestselling American novelist Jack Engelhard writes a regular column for Arutz Sheva. New from the novelist: “News Anchor Sweetheart,” a novelist’s version of Fox News and Megyn Kelly. Engelhard is the author of the international bestseller “Indecent Proposal.” He is the recipient of the Ben Hecht Award for Literary Excellence. Website: