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William G. Niederland Collection

Identifier: AR 7165

Scope and Contents

The collection is arranged in eight series

Series I contains examples of Niederland's literary output, including publications, manuscripts and lectures on various subjects, predominantly Holocaust survivors. The series reflects his scientific work as well as his endeavors to raise scholarly and public awareness of this subject by giving lectures in the United States, Germany and Switzerland.

Series II consists of publications, manuscripts and lectures of other authors in addition to a few publications by the German government on indemnification laws. Records included here illustrate the scientific debate on the psychic sequelae of the Holocaust. Publications on other topics are also included.

Documents regarding scientific conferences, such as announcements, schedules and meeting minutes are contained in Series III. These conferences focus primarily on Holocaust survivors and date from 1946 to 1988.

Series IV is composed of correspondence between Niederland and his colleagues as well as private individuals. This series holds a rather small portion of Niederland's correspondence, while the bulk may be found in the records of the Niederland Collection held at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Psychiatric Cases, Series V, comprises the largest section of the collection. The series consists of 165 reports on Holocaust survivors claiming indemnification before German courts and several other reports not related to such cases. Due to privacy issues, portions of this series are restricted to researchers.

Series VI contains documents relating to the Daniel Paul Schreber case and the Winterstein case. Again, this is a small representative sample of Niederland's records on this topic. The bulk of the documents are held at the Library of Congress.

Printed Material may be found in Series VII and includes newspaper articles concerning Holocaust survivors, Niederland's scientific research and published works and other various subjects that were of interest to him.

Series VIII consists of miscellaneous records such as handwritten notes, fragments of unidentified articles and several requests for autographs.


  • 1903-1989


Language of Materials

The collection is in English, German and Italian.

Access Restrictions

Access to Series V: Psychiatric Cases: Subseries 1 and 2 (box/folders 3/32-6/16) is restricted. Users may request a xerox copy of the medical report with names expunged, however, the copy cannot be released from the archives and must be returned before the user leaves the reading room.

Box 7 holds sample case files with names expunged that are open to the public.

For more information, please contact: Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011

Use Restrictions

There are restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011


Biographical Note

William G. Niederland was born on August 29, 1904 in Schippenbeil, East Prussia. His father was an orthodox cantor who moved with his family to Würzburg in order to become a rabbi there. In 1929, Niederland received his medical degree from the University of Würzburg and subsequently worked as a physician in Berlin, Düsseldorf and Geilingen. Niederland immigrated to Italy in 1934. There he took the medical exam for a second time and established a psychiatric practice in Milan. However, he was forced to flee to England five years later to escape the increasingly prevalent growth of fascism. The following year, Niederland entered the United States as an immigrant, although he did not become a citizen until 1954.

After having passed his third medical exam in 1941, Niederland founded a private practice in New York with another immigrant, Paul Kahn. In addition, he traveled throughout the United States giving lectures on the subject of fascism in Germany and other European countries. From 1945 to 1947, Niederland taught at the University of Tampa in Florida. Upon leaving this post, he traveled to Europe for the first time since World War II and visited Zürich, Düsseldorf, and his childhood home, Würzburg.

Apart from working as a psychiatrist in both private practice and several hospitals in New York and New Jersey, Niederland was also a renowned scholar, professor, and published author. On his return to New York City, Niederland commenced studying at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, where he underwent formal psychoanalytic training between 1948 and 1953. He published his first book, Man Made Plague: A Primer on Neurosis in 1948. At the end of his training, Niederland taught at the Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn from 1952 until 1977 when he was named Professor Emeritus. Furthermore, he maintained a private practice in New York for twenty years. In terms of professional activities, Niederland was a coeditor of Psychoanalytic Quarterly from 1958 to 1980. In 1971, he became president of the Psychoanalytic Association of New York, a position he held until 1973.

One of Niederland's major research interests for decades was the case of Daniel Paul Schreber, whose diaries had been analyzed by Freud in 1911. Niederland published numerous articles on the case, focusing on Schreber's childhood and his relationship with his father, these aspects having been neglected by previous researchers (in Niederland's opinion). His first work on Schreber, "Three Notes on the Schreber Case," was published in 1951; the book, The Schreber Case: Psychoanalytic Profile of a Paranoid Personality, came out in 1974.

In 1961, Niederland and his family traveled to Greece where he conducted extensive research on Heinrich Schliemann, which resulted in several publications, such as "Eros and Thanatos in the Life of Heinrich Schliemann: Psychoanalytic Profile of a Creative Mind" (1967). Creativity and the creative process became one of Niederland's dominant areas of research. One of his theses concerning this topic was that having confronted tragic or disturbing events during their childhood, many creative people achieved a higher emotional responsiveness to internal as well as external stimuli.

Karl Menninger, the well-known American psychiatrist, characterized Niederland as having a "gift for uncovering rare and exciting mysteries, examining them with psychoanalytic wisdom and presenting them to us as the most delightful reading material." (Wenda Focke. William G. Niederland: Psychiater der Verfolgten: Seine Zeit, Sein Leben, Sein Werk. Würzburg: Könighausen and Neumann, 1992. p. 267). Wenda Focke, Niederland's former assistant, posited that the variety and vividness of his research activities allowed him to maintain his professional distance and cope with what became his main achievement in the field of psychiatry: the study of the psychic suffering of Holocaust survivors.

From 1953 onward, Niederland was a consultant to German courts ruling on indemnification claims by Holocaust survivors. Appointed by the German Consulate General, Niederland examined survivors claiming indemnification from German federal and state governments. The main question a psychiatric consultant had to answer was: to what extent a person (e.g. a concentration camp survivor, a former slave laborer, or someone who had lost his or her entire family in the Holocaust) was damaged in his or her capability to work for a living. Only if the court regarded the total extent of physical and psychic damage as being twenty-five percent or higher, claimants would be assigned indemnification. Moreover, the prevalent theory among German psychiatric consultants at the time was that the survivors' psychiatric diseases and mental suffering were results of the patients' dispositions, rather than the results of Nazi persecution.

Together with a handful of other psychiatrists, Niederland fought against this interpretation. He vehemently criticized clinical psychiatry for not regarding human beings as inseparable entities of body and soul, but merely as a conglomeration of organs and organic systems. Niederland, who was constantly confronted with Holocaust survivors, recognized that his patients' suffering was severe, persistent and incurable. He submitted very detailed and empathetic psychiatric reports that not only illustrated the impact of Nazi persecution on peoples' mental constitution, but were a testament to the life-enduring suffering of numerous Holocaust survivors. Niederland researched extensively on the psychic sequelae of the Holocaust in both child and adult survivors of the camps. In 1961, he published "The Problems of the Survivor-Part I." Two years later, the "Wayne State University Workshop on the Late Sequelae of Massive Psychic Trauma" took place, raising scholarly attention to the psychic impacts of Nazi persecution and becoming an important venue for dialogue and discussion for the next several years.

Eventually, Niederland established an international research network with colleagues Robert J. Lifton, Ulrich Venzlaff and Henry Krystal. Niederland coined the term, "The Survivor Syndrome," in his 1964 publication of the same name. This now familiar medical phrase represents the traumatic aftermath of the Holocaust on millions of people within and outside the United States, based on the evaluation of about 800 cases he and others had examined. Numerous articles and lectures in the United States and Europe followed over the next decade. In 1968, the book Massive Psychic Trauma (edited by Henry Krystal) was published and in 1971 Krystal and Niederland together published, Psychic Traumatization: Aftereffects in Individuals and Communities. One of Niederland's most important works was Folgen der Verfolgung: Das Überlebenden-Syndrom, Seelenmord. Some of the psychiatric reports contained within this volume were being published for the first time. The term "Seelenmord" (Soul Murder) was meant to characterize the survivors' lifelong suffering and alienation from the "normal world." The controversies with other German psychiatric consultants, who in many cases disconnected the survivors' mental disease from their experiences and tried to reduce the chargeable impacts merely on physical damage, helped to sharpen Niederland's scientific concept. By the time the number of claims had decreased in the 1970s and 1980s, he had not only helped many survivors personally, but had contributed largely to the broader perspective concerning the Holocaust's impact on the victims and their descendents on both sides of the Atlantic.

Until he died in 1993, Niederland worked on all of his various research projects simultaneously. His last work on Schreber was published in 1989 in addition to a collection of essays entitled "Trauma und Kreativität" (Trauma and Creativity). These late dates illustrate the commitment and passion that Niederland exhibited for his psychiatric topics, a commitment that spanned both time and geographic space.


6 Linear Feet


Dr. William G. Niederland (1904-1993) was a renowned psychiatrist who immigrated to the United States in 1940 via Italy and the Philippines. While he was a psychiatric expert for German indemnification trials of survivors of the Holocaust, Niederland became an advocate of the survivors' claims and an empathetic researcher of their psychic suffering. He engaged in scientific research on psychic sequelae in Holocaust survivors for more than four decades. Niederland is believed to have discovered the "Survivor Syndrome," as a psychiatric disease and condition. The William G. Niederland Collection contains manuscripts, lectures and published writings by Niederland (and others) as well as 165 court case files consisting of psychiatric opinions, correspondence and court decisions referring to individual indemnification cases. Also included are correspondence with his colleagues and material related to his various research projects.


The collection is on 19 reels of microfilm (MF 959). Access is restricted on reels 9-18.

  1. Reel 1: 1/1 - 1/4
  2. Reel 2: 1/5 - 1/9
  3. Reel 3: 1/10 - 1/12
  4. Reel 4: 1/13 - 1/15
  5. Reel 5: 1/16 - 2/3
  6. Reel 6: 2/4 - 2/5
  7. Reel 7: 2/6 - 2/9
  8. Reel 8: 2/10 - 3/31
  9. Reel 9: 3/32 - 3/51 Access Restricted
  10. Reel 10: 3/52 - 3/73 Access Restricted
  11. Reel 11: 3/74 - 4/20 Access Restricted
  12. Reel 12: 4/21 - 4/40 Access Restricted
  13. Reel 13: 4/41 - 4/55 Access Restricted
  14. Reel 14: 4/56 - 5/11 Access Restricted
  15. Reel 15: 5/12 - 5/29 Access Restricted
  16. Reel 16: 5/30 - 5/50 Access Restricted
  17. Reel 17: 5/51 - 6/16 Access Restricted
  18. Reel 18: 6/17 - 6/25 Access Restricted
  19. Reel 19: 7/1 - 7/35

Related Material

The Library of Congress holds a large collection of Niederland's private files, writings and correspondence. These records, which are part of the Sigmund Freud Collection, contain the larger portion of Niederland's correspondence and his paper on research projects not relating to Holocaust survivors and their psyche.

There is a smaller collection of files belonging to William G. Niederland in the archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

Guide to the Papers of William G. Niederland Collection (1904-1993), 1903-1989 AR 7165 / MF 959
Processed by Frauke Steffens
© 2006
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2010-04-28 : encoding of linking to digital objects from finding aid was changed from <extref> to <dao> through dao_conv.xsl.
  • January 2009:: Information on box 7 added.
  • March 2009:: Microfilm inventory added.
  • March 2010:: Updated Container List; added Series IX.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States