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May 30, 2003 - Image 70

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-05-30

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A Call To Adventure





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ost people recognize the
name of Franz Kafka,
even if they haven't actu-
ally read his books. He's
the German novelist who wrote the
story about a man who turned into a
cockroach in "The Metamorphosis"
and with The Trial gave the world the
adjective "Kafkaesque" to mean any-
thing mired in mindless red tape and
But few know the name of Dora
Diamant, and neither did San Diego
writer Kathi Diamant until 1971, when
a college professor issued what she now
refers to as "a call to adventure" by
interrupting his German literature class
to ask her if she was related to Kafka's
last mistress.
"I had never heard of her," Kathi
said, but he explained Kafka had died
in her arms and she had fulfilled his

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Kathi Diamant:
"I wanted a
life of magic,
adventure and
And that's
what I got."

wishes by burning [some of] his work."
Dora and Kafka met in 1923 and fell
in love just a year before he died of
tuberculosis. She was nurse, lover and
muse to him. When he asked her to
marry him in the hospital, however, she
refused, holding out the hope
of marriage when his health
improved and he left the
sanatorium. That was never
to happen.
"My teacher described her
as a passionate, intelligent,
recklessly honest Jewish
woman who gave Kafka the
happiest year of his life, so of
course I wanted to be related
to her," Kathi said. "I told
him I'd look into it and get
back to him."
Now, 31 years later, after a literary
odyssey that has taken her all over the
world, Kathi has at least part of an
answer, as well as a biography, Kafka's

Last Love: The Mystery of Dora Diamant

(Basic Books; $30).
"After college, Dora refused to be for-
gotten," Kathi said. "She crept into my
personal pantheon of heroes, and I
found myself making decisions based
on her: When I married, I would keep
my name Diamant because
that's what Dora did.
Should I have a daughter, I
would name her Dora.
When I was faced with a
difficult dilemma, I would
ask myself what Dora
would do."
In 1984, when she was
host of the local morning
TV show Sun-up San Diego,
Kathi covered an exhibit at
the San Diego Museum of
Art that contained Judaic
art and personal belongings — family
menorahs, Passover plates, wedding
rings, Torah pointers — that Adolf
Hitler had confiscated and planned to
include in a museum to an extinct race.
One exhibit was a photograph of a
synagogue wall where the names of
77,000 Jews were hand-written. The
name Diamant was among them, but
the list of Diamants broke off at the
photograph's frame.
When Kathi asked the curator how
she could learn more about the wall,
the answer was that she would have to
go to Prague, Czech Republic (then
That same year, Ernst Pawel pub-
lished a new biography of Kafka, The
Nightmare of Reason, which contained
additional information about what had
happened to Dora after Kafka's death:
She moved to Berlin, escaped the
Gestapo (although they confiscated her
letters from Kafka), married a member
of the East German Communist Party,
had a child, went to Russia and later
escaped from the Soviet Union.
"Pawel's description of this amazing
human being became part of my moti-
vation for finding out what became of
her," Kathi said. "It would have taken a
miracle for a Polish-born Jewish wife of
a convicted Trotskyite saboteur to leave
the Soviet Union in 1938 with a child
who was ill, but she did it. It took
Kathi's initial travels took her to
Prague, where Kafka lived and is
buried, and to
4t1_, ;--:- to see

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