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William Nussbaum Collection

Identifier: AR 10705 / MF 740

Scope and Contents

The bulk of the William Nussbaum Collection documents his anthropological research on German Jews as head of Die Arbeitsgemeinschaft für jüdische Erbforschung und Eugenik and Die Arbeitsgemeinschaft für jüdische Erbforschung und Erbpflege. These records are composed of correspondence, institutional files, research notes and material, clippings, personal notes, manuscripts, photo albums of racial "types," and genealogical information.

There are also approximately 1,200 measurement charts, over 200 psychological questionnaires, about 100 twin questionnaires, several hundred family questionnaires, hereditary charts and tables, photo albums of examined subjects, many of a gynecological nature, and various manuscripts, lectures, articles, and papers both published and unpublished by William Nussbaum from this period. Highlights of the correspondence include communication with various Jewish institutions in Germany regarding research, letters with the Reich Ministry of the Interior the Gestapo regarding Nussbaum's organization, as well as letters between William Nussbaum and such figures as Leo Baeck, Franz Boas, Arthur Czellitzer, and Bertha Pappenheim.


  • 1773-1975
  • Majority of material found within 1932-1935


Language of Materials

The collection is in German and English.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers with some restrictions.

Files with personal health information have restricted access and are therefore not available online. These files are located in Series V: Research Material, and consist of folders 5/5 through 6/17 in Subseries 1: General as well as all of Subseries 2: Individual Examinations and all of Subseries 3: United States.

Access Information

Collection is digitized. Follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.

Collection is microfilmed - MF 740.

Readers may access the collection by visiting the Lillian Goldman Reading Room at the Center for Jewish History. We recommend reserving the collection in advance; please visit the LBI Online Catalog and click on the "Request" button.

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


Use of some files is restricted due to containing personal health information. These files are located in Series V: Research Material, and consist of folders 5/5 through 6/17 in Subseries 1: General as well as all of Subseries 2: Individual Examinations and all of Subseries 3: United States.

Biographical Note

William (Wilhelm) Nussbaum was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1896. His parents were Bonum and Veilchen Nussbaum (neé Kaufmann). During World War I, he worked as a military physician at a hospital for contagious diseases. For his service, he received the Iron Cross.

After the war he studied medicine and art in Munich and Berlin. He finished his undergraduate studies in 1921 in Berlin and began to focus on the natural sciences and anthropology; other interests included the history of the Jews. For his medical internship he worked at the university clinic in Frankfurt and at the Abel'schen Frauenklinik in Berlin. In 1923, his resume included membership to both the Gesellschaft für Gynäkologie und Geburtshilfe (Organization for Gynecology and Obstetricianal Aid) and the Gesellschaft für Volkshygiene (Association for People's Hygiene). Nussbaum was also an active member of the International Congress for Anthropology and Ethnology, where he worked in the subject of "female sexual hygiene." In 1929, Nussbaum married Lotte Frankfurter. They had two children, Bernhard and Michael.

William Nussbaum entered Berlin University in the winter semester of 1929, already a practicing gynecologist, to further study anthropology under the guidance of Eugen Fischer. Fischer's courses focused on race, genetics, and heredity. Nussbaum became a fervent advocate of hereditary hygiene. He believed a strong understanding of hereditary hygiene could make for a healthier population.

In 1933 Nussbaum founded Die Arbeitsgemeinschaft für jüdische Erbforschung und Eugenik (The Organization for Jewish Genetic Research and Eugenics). The name was later changed to Die Arbeitsgemeinschaft für jüdische Erbforschung und Erbpflege (The Organization for Jewish Research and Hereditary Care). Through this institute, Nussbaum examined more than 1100 German-Jews (including 300 twins) between 1933 and 1935 from an "anthropological and race" perspective, which included measuring heads and noses, checking hair and eye color, and examining and questioning their genetic ancestry. Measurements were carried out at Jewish institutions in Berlin, such as schools, hospitals, children and old age homes, and in various communities in southern Germany, including Wuerzburg, Burgkunstadt (Oberfranken), Altenkundstadt, Goeppingen, and Jebenhausen (Wuerttemberg).

William wrote a number of articles and delivered lectures on the work of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft, and on hereditary hygiene and theory. His main conclusion was that Jews had been in Germany long enough that they had mixed in genetically with the local non-Jewish population. He argued that, therefore, there was no specific "Jewish hygiene" question in Germany.

The work of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft appears generally well received by the Jewish community at the time, and was also accepted among the scientific and anthropological communities. Leo Baeck called him, "our foremost authority in the field of heredity and racial research" ("unserer ersten Autoritäten auf dem Gebiete der Erb-und Rassenforschung").

In the first years of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft the Nazi authorities approved of the organization. Letters from the Ministry of the Interior and the Gestapo show that, though not funded by the government, the organization was allowed to exist with the blessing of the Nazi administrators. But, in 1935 the Gestapo officially dissolved the organization.

In 1935, Nussbaum received an invitation from renowned anthropologist Franz Boas, who was teaching at Columbia University in New York City, to serve as a research associate. Nussbaum and his wife Lotte immigrated to New York, but they had difficulties securing a visa for their youngest son. Lotte Nussbaum traveled back and forth between both countries until Michael was able to join them in New York in 1938. Nussbaum worked at Columbia until 1940, continuing in the field of Jewish race research, and later practiced as a general physician and gynecologist.

Nussbaum presented a paper, Anthropological Studies on German Jews (1933-1934), at a 1948 conference in Brussels. Nussbaum advanced the earlier work of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft in this presentation. He stated that not only had the Jews mixed genetically into the local non-Jewish population, but in fact Jews could not be considered a separate race. Though certain physical characteristics had in the past been associated as "Jewish traits," there was no racial basis for many of these characteristics, and in fact many of these "traits" had only been stereotypes and were not actually common in the Jewish population.

Nussbaum's home in Queens was frequented by other Jewish émigrés from Germany. Many of these figures were involved with literature. In 1952, Nussbaum and his wife organized a lecture series by playwrite Julius Bab. In the following years, lectures were held by Herbert Marcus, Paul Tillich, Paul Zucker, Fritz von Unruh, and other notable individuals.

William Nussbaum himself was active as a poet and painter. In 1953, he published a collection of poems called Überfahrt. Some of his paintings were shown in 1976 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as part of an exhibition on artwork by physicians. He also served in various local New York community and health organizations. In addition, he remained involved in the field of Anthropology, and was a member of various anthropological societies in both the United States and abroad.

Upon his retirement, William Nussbaum continued to be active. He remained interested in the medical field, once commenting that he would die a medical student. He passed away in 1985.


13 Linear Feet


William (Wilhelm) Nussbaum was a Jewish race scientist who ran an organization, Die Arbeitsgemeinschaft für jüdische Erbforschung und Eugenik/Erbpflege, between the years 1933 and 1935. He racially examined over 1100 German Jews seeking both information about the Jewish "race," and validating Jews as racially being a European people. Material in the collection includes articles and manuscripts authored by Nussbaum regarding Jewish race history and research, articles and writings by other authors about the Jewish race, and information forms recording the statistical results of anthropologically examined Jewish individuals and groups.


This collection is on twenty-one reels of microfilm (MF 740).

  1. Reel 1: 1/1 - 1/21
  2. Reel 2: 1/22 - 1/57
  3. Reel 3: 1/58 - 2/11
  4. Reel 4: 2/12 - 2/27
  5. Reel 5: 2/28 - 3/35
  6. Reel 6: 4/1 - 5/4
  7. Reel 7: 5/5 - 5/13
  8. Reel 8: 5/14 - 6/17
  9. Reel 9: 6/18 - 7/4
  10. Reel 10: 7/5 - 7/18
  11. Reel 11: 7/19 - 8/3
  12. Reel 12: 8/4 - 8/17
  13. Reel 13: 8/18 - 9/4
  14. Reel 14: 9/5 - 9/10
  15. Reel 15: 9/11 - 10/6
  16. Reel 16: 10/7 - 10/13
  17. Reel 17: 10/14 - 11/3
  18. Reel 18: 11/4 - 11/31
  19. Reel 19: 12/1 - 12/17
  20. Reel 20: 12/18 - 12/28
  21. Reel 21: 12/29 - 13/21

Separated Material

Two issues of the Aufbau from 1938, the Congress Bi-Weekly of March 21, 1960, and two issues of Der nationaldeutsche Jude from 1933

Guide to the Papers of William Nussbaum (1896-1985), 1773-1975 (bulk 1932-1935)   AR 10750 / MF 740
Processed by Michael Simonson, October 2006
© 2006
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2010-12-16 : encoding of linking to digital objects from finding aid was changed from <extref> to <dao> through dao_conv.xsl
  • August 2009.: Edited folder title (6/15).
  • June 5, 2017:: Spelling of Camp Achvah in Series V, Subseries 3 corrected.
  • March 5, 2018:: Access and Use Restrictions notes added.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States