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Prague Center to Finally Undergo Metamorphosis into Kafka Square

May 1, 2000
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It was a struggle almost as frustrating as that of Joseph K., the victim of faceless bureaucracy in Franz Kafka’s most famous novel, “The Trial.”

But on April 25, a Czech Jewish professor finally won a 37-year battle to have a Prague city center square named after Kafka, the city’s famous son.

Eduard Goldstucker, 87, campaigned tirelessly over the years for authorities to rename the area off the Old Town Square where the German-speaking Jewish writer was born nearly 120 years ago.

“I am so glad that the city is going to do this in my lifetime,” Goldstucker said. “I have always wanted this because he was a great writer and is the best- known son Prague has today.”

In 1963, Goldstucker — a former ambassador to Israel — organized an international conference on Kafka that helped rehabilitate the author in the eyes of hard-line Communist authorities. He succeeded in 1966 in having a plaque erected on the house where Kafka was born, but authorities turned down all appeals for a square to be named after him.

Goldstucker narrowly escaped a death sentence during Czechoslovakia’s show trials of the 1950s, when many fellow Communist Party members were executed for anti-state activities. Goldstucker was instead handed a life sentence as a spy and a Zionist.

Authorities released Goldstucker after a few years in prison. He fled to Britain after the Prague Spring — a short period of relative freedom in Communist Czechoslovakia — ended with the invasion of Warsaw Pact troops in 1968. Goldstucker then became a professor of comparative literature at the University of Sussex.

In 1992, he returned to Prague and pressed for the Kafka square again. But two successive city mayors rebuffed his requests.

The story began its final chapter last year when he won the support of new Mayor Jan Kasl. But there was another obstacle to overcome. Jan Burgermeister, the city official responsible for the center of Prague, opposed the idea of having the square renamed on his patch.

He claimed Kafka would have been horrified at the prospect of streets being named after him and cited administrative difficulties in altering numbers on surrounding buildings.

But on April 25 Burgermeister was overruled by his superiors on the Prague City Council, including Kasl.

“The objection that Kafka would turn in his grave if something were named after him was absurd,” Kasl told JTA. “Prague owes this gesture to Kafka.”

According to Goldstucker, the authorities overlooked Kafka for so long because of a conflict between the Czechs and the Germans.

“Prague became a Czech city, and writers like Kafka who wrote only in German were not given street names after them,” he said.

The square currently known as U Radnice should change its name to Franz Kafka Square before the end of the year. Kasl said it is possible that a statue of the author may eventually be erected in the square.

Kafka was born in Prague on July 3, 1883, the son of a middle-class Jewish merchant. After completing a doctorate in law, Kafka worked at a private insurance firm and dedicated his evenings to his literary pursuits. His works include such classics as “The Trial,” “The Castle” and “Metamorphosis.”

Although Kafka spoke and wrote fluent Czech, all of his literary work was completed in German. He died in 1924 from tuberculosis. The Nazis later killed his three surviving sisters.

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