Caught between Continents

The Holocaust and Israel’s Attempt to Claim the European Jewish Diaspora

  • Zachary Kimmel Columbia University
Keywords: Kafka, Jewish, Diaspora, Israel, Archives, Historical Memory, Prague, Vilnius, Vienna, Tel Aviv


Israel’s idea of its sovereignty over Jewish cultural production has been essential in defining national mythology and self-consciousness ever since its founding as a state in 1948. But by what right does Israel make such claims? This article examines that question through exploring three legal cases: Franz Kafka’s manuscripts, the historical records of Jewish Vienna, and the literary estate of Lithuanian-born Chaim Grade. All three cases reveal a common jurisprudential and cultural logic, a rescue narrative that is central to the State of Israel itself. To this day, Israel maintains an idea of its sovereignty over Jewish cultural production, and a study of these cases demonstrates how the Holocaust plays as decisive a role in the creation and implementation of Israeli policy and jurisprudential practice as it has in its national identity more broadly.

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