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Nelly Sachs Collection

Identifier: AR 3991

Scope and Content Note

This collection portrays the work of the poet Nelly Sachs. Much of the collection grew out of an exhibition of her works by the Leo Baeck Institute in April 1967. It contains copies of Nelly Sachs's correspondence, writing, newspaper clippings about her and her works. One focus of the collection is on the Nobel Prize in literature Sachs received in 1966.

Several series contain documents pertaining to Nelly Sachs's writing. The first of these is Series III: Writings and Translations by Nelly Sachs. This series holds copies of her writing, as well as translations of her poems. Newspaper clippings found in Series V contain articles about and reviews of her writing. Radio programs and essays concerning Nelly Sachs, which will be found in Series VI, also discuss her work.

Information on the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Nelly Sachs will also be found in many areas of the collection. Much information on this topic will be found in Series I: Personal Documents, which holds documents on the Nobel Prize and the ceremony in which it was given to Nelly Sachs, as well as information on other awards she received. This material includes photos of the Prize itself, programs of the events, and copies of speeches given at the ceremony. Many clippings from Series V also mention the Nobel Prize being granted to Nelly Sachs. Finally Series VIII: Addenda contains a broadcast address on the Nobel Prize.

Correspondence is located in two series of the collection. Series II contains Nelly Sachs's personal correspondence, whereas correspondence concerning the Leo Baeck Institute’s 1967 exhibition on Nelly Sachs will be found in Series IV.


  • 1891-1992
  • Majority of material found within 1954-1967

Language of Materials

The collection is in German, English, Swedish, Spanish, French, Hebrew, and Dutch.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Use Restrictions

There may be some 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

Nelly Sachs was born as Leonie Sachs, on December 10, 1891, in the Tiergarten section of Berlin. She grew up as the only child of the manufacturer William Sachs and Margarete Sachs, née Karger, in comfortable circumstances. Her first exposure to German literature was in her father’s library. She received private lessons for several years, until she began attending the private girls’ school Aubert in 1903. Her greatest wish at this point in her life was to become a dancer.

In 1908 Sachs completed school. She began writing to the Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf, whose writing she admired, when she was 15 years old, and her first published work Legenden und Erzählungen (Legends and Stories) was written in a similar fashion as Lagerlöf’s. During this time, some of her poetry was published in several publications, much of it written in the Romantic style. Her father, with whom she was very close, died in 1930, after a long illness.

After the Nazis rose to power in Germany Sachs was only allowed to write for Jewish newspapers. She was picked up by the Gestapo several times. Near the end of 1937 she was arrested with a close friend who was active in the Resistance. Nelly never saw her friend again, whose identity she never revealed. He was deported to a concentration camp where he later died. It was during the 1930s that Sachs began to develop an interest in Jewish mysticism, which would later be reflected in her writing.

It was through the work of friends that Nelly Sachs was finally able to escape Germany. A friend of hers, Gudrun Harlan, was able to contact the Swedish writer Selma Lagerlof. Selma Lagerlöf, with the aid of the Swedish royal family, assisted Nelly Sachs in acquiring a visa for Sweden, shortly after receiving deportation orders for a work camp. Nelly Sachs and her mother took one of the last flights to Sweden and arrived on May 16, 1940 in Stockholm. Not yet fluent in Swedish, Nelly Sachs began translating Swedish poetry in addition to working on her own writing.

In 1943 the first reports reached Sweden of the concentration camps, and Nelly Sachs discovered that her friend had been a victim of this terror. With the exception of her mother, who had fled with her to Sweden, all of her family members and many friends were also lost in the Holocaust. Out of this period came her work In den Wohnungen des Todes (In the Habitations of Death), published in 1947, with a series of poems entitled "Gebete für den toten Bräutigam," followed by Sternverdunklung (Eclipse of Stars) in 1949. Shortly thereafter came her well-known play Eli, ein Mysterienspiel vom Leiden Israels which would later be made into a radio play in West Germany. Three years later her mother died.

In 1952 Nelly Sachs received Swedish citizenship.

Although Sachs was a well-known translator of Swedish poetry, it was some time before publishers in Germany were prepared to publish her works. She was not noticed until some of her poems were published in the magazine Texte und Zeichen in 1956. In 1957 her book Und niemand weiß weiter (And No One Knows How to Go On) was published, and in 1959 Flucht und Verwandlung (Flight and Metamorphosis). A visit to Germany brought Sachs great trauma. After returning to Sweden, Sachs suffered a nervous breakdown and spent 1960-1963 in a psychiatric hospital caused by fears which stemmed from her life in Germany during the Nazi period. During this time she wrote her work Noch feiert Tod das Leben, published in 1961.

Nelly Sachs received many awards for her work. In 1957 she became a member of the Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung in Darmstadt. The following year she was the first winner of the Lyricist's Prize of the Swedish Writers' Union (Schwedischen Schriftstellersverband). Sachs won the Meersburger Droste-Preis for female poets in 1960. In 1961 she became a member in the Hamburg free academy for art. That same year the city of Dortmund established a Nelly Sachs Prize, named after its first winner. In 1963 Nelly Sachs became a member of the Bavarian academy of arts. In 1965 she received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. Nelly Sachs reached her high point when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1966, together with the Israeli writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon. Finally, in 1967 Nelly Sachs received honorary citizenship from the city of her birth, Berlin. During the same year her work O, die Schornsteine (O, the Chimneys) was published.

Nelly Sachs died on May 12, 1970 in Stockholm, where she was buried in the Jewish cemetery.


December 10, 1891
Nelly (Leonie) Sachs born in Berlin
Legenden und Erzählungen
William Sachs dies
Nelly and Margarete Sachs flee Berlin, arrive in Stockholm, Sweden
In den Wohnungen des Todes
Eli, ein Mysterienspiel vom Leiden Israels
Nelly Sachs receives Swedish citizenship
Margarete Sachs dies
Und niemand weiß weiter
Member of Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung, Darmstadt
Received Swedish Lyricist's Prize
Flucht und Verwandlung
Received Droste-Prize from city of Meersburg
Fahrt ins Staublose
Received Culture Prize of the city of Dortmund
Noch feiert Tod das Leben
Zeichen im Sand
Glühende Rätsel
Späte Gedichte
Received Peace Prize of the German Book Trade
Die Suchenende
Received Nobel Prize for literature, shared with S.Y. Agnon
May 12, 1970
Nelly Sachs dies in Stockholm
Suche nach Lebenden
Teile dich Nacht

Some information for biographical note from: Wall, Renate. Lexikon deutschsprachiger Schriftstellerinnen im Exil, 1933-1945, Band II. Freiburg im Breisgau, Kore, 1995.


1 Linear Feet


This collection documents the life and work of the Nobel Prize-winning poet Nelly Sachs. It includes material such as personal correspondence, newspaper and magazine clippings, photos, and copies and translations of her work.

Other Finding Aids

A detailed item-level inventory of this collection is available at the Leo Baeck Institute. Roman numerals in the container list refer to the item description of this inventory.

Separated Material

Photos have been removed to the Photo Collection. Audio cassettes have been removed to the A/V Collection.

Guide to the Papers of Nelly Sachs (1891-1970) 1891-1992 (bulk 1954-1967) AR 3991
Processed by Ilse Turnheim
© 2004
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from NellySachs.xml

Revision Statements

  • 2010-03-23 : encoding of linking to digital objects from finding aid was changed from <extref> to <dao> through dao_conv.xsl
  • January 2006.: Entities removed from EAD finding aid.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States