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One Hundred Years Since Franz Kafka’s Death:

The Insurance Agent Who Became One of the Greatest Writers of All Time

By: Itzick Simon, CEO / The Leading Agency for Construction Insurance

No more than a year passed from the time two agents showed up at the apartment of Citizen K, a senior bank clerk in Prague, until he was executed in the city with his final words being “like a dog”. This is without him knowing what he was being accused of or even what the nature of the legal system judging him was, which was not the state’s regular judicial system. 

The novel The Trial, one of the most important literary works of the 20th century, is the classic Kafkaesque story. The novel centers around the helpless everyday man who is up against a system that he has no real chance of winning.

Citizen K attempted to resist, despite being cautioned by people he met along the way. His only chance was to “buy time”, because defeat against the bureaucratic system was inevitable. Who are you Franz Kafka and how did you live a double life as an insurance agent by day and an illustrious author by night?

This week, the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv held a conference to mark 100 years since the revered Jewish Czech author’s death.


With your permission, I will take the platform granted to me by Hapolisa and attempt to illuminate one of the layers that comprised, in my opinion, Kafka’s brilliant yet dark writing, which is his vocation as a dreary insurance agent.

Franz Kafka, an unmarried and childless man with a father complex, requested in his will that his good friend Max Brod burn all of his writings, but fortunately Max did exactly the opposite and chose, in defiance of the explicit instructions he was given, to expose them and Kafka to the world. “He knew very well that I wouldn’t abide by his will”, he explained post factum.

Occupational accidents at quarries because the workers drink brandy?

Kafka was born to a secular Jewish family at the end of the 19th century and after completing law studies at university, he started working at the Italian insurance company we are well familiar with: Assicurazioni Generali. The company, which still exists, keeps Kafka’s CV in its archive, as well as the letter of resignation where Kafka informed that he was leaving due to illness, to the disdain of the company’s HR manager, who was outraged over his decision to resign and questioned the reason Kafka claimed he was leaving his job for.

His next stop along his professional journey was the job he held for around 20 years until he died (of tuberculosis at the young age of 40), at a government company involved in arranging insurance for occupational accidents.  It appears that during his work, Kafka implemented the idea of the risk management oriented insurance agent, when he invented the safety helmet for civil workers (according to Prof. Peter Drucker).  Another interesting fact is that Kafka was one of the only two Jews who were employed at this company, and thanks to his capabilities he also received numerous promotions and honours.



Alongside his revolutionary books that were published posthumously, numerous researchers have followed the author’s “professional work” to shed light on his personality. In numerous studies it emerges that Kafka’s sense of justice manifested in his job at the government company. In documents he signed, he criticised employers who harmed the insured employees, including by providing misleading information about the risk classification and exclusionary attempts on their part to “expose” frauds and scams by the employees who were injured in accidents.  (Familiar to anyone?...)

There’s no doubt that the motifs behind every Kafkaesque story, now considered an idiom not only for Kafka’s works but also for the works of others, were born to a certain degree during his many hours working in the cutthroat world of insurance. Like in the Kafkaesque story, also in the world of insurance the individual often finds himself face to face with powerful systems that often seem to be undefeatable, and in the “best” case they are willing to negotiate over the agreement to surrender. 

It’s amazing to be exposed to the artist’s double life, who by night used his writing to sail on flying Dutchmen who were swept away at sea, or about the eternal construction of the Wall of China, and by day he was “forced” to issue boring documents that dealt with topics such as quarry owners who pay their employees with booze and subsequently cause work accidents while cleaning chimneys under the influence. Yes, it’s a true story.

Some will say, and I am among them, that perusing this material while cross-referencing his iconic books like The Castle or The Trial, helps to understand the nature of the “Kafkaesque story”. A lost humane act in a world of dark bureaucracy and despair.

Bureaucracy will approve the appointment only after the person dies

Another good example of the difficulty the individual faces against the forces that be is in Kafka’s final book, The Castle. The protagonist is again named K., but this time we get a “land surveyor” who is invited to a small village that is incessantly shrouded in a dark fog.

The problem is that no one knows that K. was invited there since the village has no need for a land surveyor. Instead of doing the job he was called to perform, K. finds himself facing an impenetrable and uncompromising bureaucracy that places him in the position of assistant to the local school’s superintendent, without understanding anything about it.

The local bureaucracy in that “castle” is run by a secret earl who lives on a hill above the village. The villagers who meet K. revere the castle inhabitants, even though they have no idea what these mysterious nobility do. The actions of the authority remain elusive and the villagers try to explain them in lengthy monologues that contradict each other. 


An interesting thing about The Castle is that not only is K. inside the Kafkaesque atmosphere, but the reader as well. This is due to the fact that the author did not manage to write the ending, but only told his good friend Max Brod who inherited his works, that Mr. K. will get the appointment from the castle only after he dies of exhaustion. Kafka at his best.

Between Kafka and the world of insurance

From Prague of the early 20th century to 21st century Israel. The world has progressed and the insurance world is much more transparent and clearer. On the other hand, there are definite parallels between insurance case law and Kafkaesque stories.

Also today, the layperson with an insurance policy is virtually incapable of dealing on their own with clauses and sub-clauses in policies, which often clash with dynamic and elastic case law. 

In our insurance agency, which specializes in construction insurance, we can attest to this first hand. Our job is often to navigate the insured through the policies and to turn the Kafkaesque story from his perspective into a simple and clear text, with a beginning, middle, and end.

Kafka, who saw the difficulty of policyholders against the power and complexity of the insurance industry, and who was an outstanding employee, expressed this in the novels and short stories that he wrote: iconic texts that were published posthumously and that became inalienable assets that impacted Western thought in the broadest terms. 

This is definitely a source of pride for us as well, the insurance agents, and it’s interesting whether the next Kafka lives among us. An insurance agent by day, and an author by night. 

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