Adonis Diaries

What expert on the Orient: Lev Nussimbaun?

Posted on: July 21, 2010

Liova or Lev Nussimbaum (1905-1942), also known as Leo, or Kurban Said, or Essad Bey,wrote in German over 15 books and over 200 articles in several dailies and periodicals within 12 years.  He died in Italy at the age of 36 but he looked as old as a 70 years old man.

Among his books are “Blood and oil in the Orient”, “Ali and Nino”,  “The daughter of the Golden Horn”, “Twelve secrets of the Caucasus”, “Muhammad”, “History of Guepeou”,  “Soviet Union secret police”, “Stalin”, “Lenin”, “Tsar Nicholas II”, “Allah is Great”, “Epic of oil”, “White Russia: People without a land”, “Russia at a crossroad”, “The Caucasus: Mountains, people, and history”, “Reda Shah” and many other books.  He mostly signed his books under Kurban Said. Lev’s agent, Werner Schendell, asked Lev to ease up on publishing so often and to focus on publishing one book a year, at no avail.

Kurban Said was known in Germany of the 1920′s as Essad Bey (Assad is Lion in Arabic, just as Leo refers to Lion) after he converted to Islam by the Imam of the Ottoman Embassy in 1923.  He was the first to describe Stalin and Lenin in details and accounted for the tormenting period of Baku (Capital of Azerbaijan on the Black Sea or the “Zarathustra” land).

Lev was a Jew born in Baku of a rich oil baron living in Baku (Abraham was born in Tbilisi in Georgia) and a mother (Berta Sluzk, originally from Kiev).   Berta had left Zürich, headquarters of Russia revolutionaries, and ended up in a Baku prison.  Lev’s father noticed Berta who was serving a prison sentence at the Baku prison and arranged for her to be set free and married her. Berta resumed her “revolutionary” activities and extended money to the revolutionary groups (that will later be called Bolshevik) between 1905 and 1912.  Berta committed suicide by poison after she was found out of communicating with the revolutionary gangs and then, she became an embarrassment to her family.  Lev was then 9 years old. 

Lev was mostly forced to be secluded in his home and his large library because of the dangerous conditions outside.  In the rare outings, Lev was surrounded with body guards and a nurse: He was considered of fragile health. Lev and his father fled Baku in 1917 during the First World War: the armies of Tsar Nicholas II were defeated by Germany and Baku was becoming a hotbed for instability and chaos.  They crossed Turkmenistan and then Iran and had many adventures. 

Father and son returned to Baku as the Turks and Germans occupied it briefly before the English returned.  Azerbaijan experienced independence for less than a year before the Bolshevik returned in 1920 and Azerbaijan became part of the Soviet Union. Father and son managed to flee Baku, separately, in order to avoid close surveillance.

Lev spent some time in Tbilisi (Capital of Georgia) and then, boarded an Italian boat with his father in 1920 to Constantinople( Istanbul).  Istanbul was big and cosmopolitan and Lev fell in love with this city.  The French, English, Italian, and Japanese troops had headquarters in different quarters of Constantinople.  Father and son boarded an Italian boat and wandered a few months in Italy before landing in Paris.  A year later, Lev was sent to a boarding school on an island in Northern Germany and then they settled in Berlin by 1922.

Lev was attending university courses on the orient history, geography and literature while finishing his high school in a Russian school in Berlin.  Berlin was nicknamed the second Russian Capital because most Russian refugees ended up in that city after Lenin and Bolsheviks took over power. Willy Haas of the famous magazine “Literarische Welt” hired Lev as an expert of the Oriental matters at the age of 24.  Lev also published articles in the dailies and magazines of  “Deutsche Allgemeine”, “Prager Tageblatt”, “Asia”, “The living age”, and “Saturday Review of literature”.  Lev wrote about most monarchs and princes who visited Germany between the two wars, and the history , geography, and literature of the Oriental countries.  He wrote articles about Resa Shah (father of Shah of Iran), Ibn Saud and the Wahhabi sect, on Egypt, on Afghanistan, and mostly on Russia and the Caucasus region. You may have more details on Lev’s life in my post:

Note: This biography is extracted from “The Orientalist” by Tom Reiss.

1 Response to "What expert on the Orient: Lev Nussimbaun?"

[…] What expert on the Orient: Lev Nussimbaun? […]

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July 2010

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