The territory of this district was not part of Saxony before World War II; rather, it, along with the city of Görlitz, was a part of German Silesia. When most of Silesia was assigned to Poland after the war, the tiny rump of the Silesian province was integrated into Saxony.
The current district was formed in 1994 by merging the previous districts Niesky and Weißwasser, and most part of the former district Görlitz. In August 2008, it became a part of the new district of Görlitz.
The main river in the district is the Neisse, which also forms the boundary to Poland. The terrain is mostly hilly, with broad valleys. In the past many swamps covered the area, which is now heath areas and many ponds.
The stone wall in the bottom of the coat of arms is the symbol of the Oberlausitz region, with its three tops symbolizing the three districts which were merged. The linden leaves symbolize the Sorbs Slavic minority. The shield above the wall is the old coat of arms of the Prussian province Lower Silesia (Niederschlesien).