The last woman in Kafka’s life, twenty years younger than Kafka, she was Jewish and hailed from the Polish town of Pabianice. She emigrated to Germany to escape from difficult family circumstances. There is uncertainty about her real date of birth. She was nineteen years old when Kafka first met her in 1923 at the seaside resort of Müritz on the Baltic coast. She was working as a kitchen help in a summer camp run by the Berlin Jewish People’s Home, where volunteers from the local Jewish community helped look after Jewish children from Eastern Europe. That activity fascinated Kafka, who years before had commended it to his first fiancée Felice Bauer. He soon came to know Dora and they decided to go to live together in Berlin.
Berlin was a city Kafka longed after, as well as being as ‘transfer station’ on the journey to Palestine, the destination of his dreams and fancies. He moved there with Dora towards the end of 1923 and for the following six months they lived through alarming inflation and material hardship. They were forced to move three times and their means were minimal. At the worst moments they used kerosene lamps for lighting, as they could not afford electricity, and they used candle-ends to heat up the food they obtained mainly from the family in Prague. At the beginning of 1924, Kafka’s health suddenly deteriorated and during a visit to his uncle, the doctor Siegfried Löwy, Kafka let himself be convinced of the need for hospital treatment. In mid-March he went to Prague for a short stay in the company of Max Brod. Meanwhile Dora stayed behind in Berlin before accompanying Kafka to Austria, where, with Robert Klopstock, she took care of him for the three months prior to his death. Kafka stayed first at the Wiener Wald sanatorium near Ortman, south-west of Vienna, then at the laryngology clinic of Professor Hajek in Vienna, and finally at Dr. Hoffmann’s sanatorium in Kierling near Klosterneuburg. At the point of death, Kafka asked Dora’s father for permission to marry her. However, on the advice of the local rabbi, her father refused. Dora remained with Kafka to the end, making sure he had everything he needed, even corresponding with his family in her imperfect German, mostly in the form of postscripts to Kafka’s letters. Indeed she added a postscripts to the last letter shortly before his death when his strength gave out in mid-sentence.
Dora cherished Kafka’s memory for the following thirty years of her life. She lived in straitened circumstances in the Whitechapel district of London, devoting herself to the dissemination and preservation of Hasidic culture and the Yiddish language. She organized discussions, theatrical performances and recitals, in which she herself acted, recited and sang. Sadly she never spoke about Kafka except on one occasion, nor did she publish anything about him, although she left numerous notes behind.