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“Pain is more powerful than death”: Who is Lev Nussimbaum?

Pain is more powerful than life, more powerful than death, love, loyalty, and duty” wrote Lev Nussimbaum before he died in acute pain in the retreat village of Positano by the shore around Naples in 1942.

Lev Nussimbaum, (he signed his books and articles by Essad Bey in the first 8 years or Kurban Said in the last 4 years of his life), arrived from Vienna to Italy in full health at the age of 31, fleeing Nazi Germany that occupied Austria.  He was trying to obtain the rights to becoming Mussolini biographer.

Before 1938, Mussolini politics were against Hitler and the anti-semite or Aryan Nazi policies.  Lev ( a Jew by origin) was dropped from the writers syndicate in Germany, and his author’s rights from selling his already published 10 books were denied him.

He married for convenience sake a German baroness and signed Kurban Said so that he may receive money through his wife from different accounts in Europe.

By 1938, Mussolini sided with Hitler; it seems that Mussolini understood that Germany will not leave its southern front (Italy) unprotected by all means.  Thus, Italy started leisurely to tighten the grip on Jews.

Lev was suffering from Reynaud’s syndrome by 1940; it is a blood infection that asphyxiate the cells and your body witnesses internal gangrene.  Lev was amputated several times and he relied on morphine and hashish to secure short reprieves from pain.

Imagine you were born at the turn of the 20th century (say 1905) and had to witness genocides and two world wars before you reach the age of 30.

You experienced genocides against Armenians in Baku (Azerbaijan) and you had to flee persecutions with your father (since your mother committed suicide when you were only 9 years old) and you were kept on the run from Baku, to Turkmenistan, to Persia, to Georgia, to Constantinople, to Italy, Paris, Germany, and back to Italy.

Imagine that “revolutionary” gangs kidnapped people in your city for ransoms and that you had to be confined in your home for years.

Imagine that you witnessed the “Red Bolsheviks” invade your country and commit mass massacres.  You see the old world of lasting empires, monarchies, kingdoms, and dynasties falling apart and you have to get used to a new world of “barbaric” youth who are trying to live in a different changing culture, tradition, and set of values.

Trying to comprehend a world of totalitarian regimes, racial ideologies blatantly discriminating among race and religions, regimes intent on restricting freedom of opinions that you were used to and you have to juggle amid this world of upheaval while barely 20 of age.

Imagine you are mentally more mature than normal kids, that you could read in three languages and devoured all the novels in your rich library about the Orient of Sultans, Princes, and Khans, that you built an imaginary world of fast and pomp and luxury.

Imagine that you appreciated luxury and lived in luxury (your father is an oil baron in Baku and money is redundant) and then you are reduced to a life of poverty.

Imagine that you believed deep down that Islam and the Islamic world (for example, the Ottoman Empire) is the alternative political and social system to Bolshevism and racial segregation; that you converted to Islam and took the name of Essad Bey.

Suppose you could assimilate the culture of your environment and play the roles you desire; that you attended university courses in Orientalism (the history, literature, geography) of Islam and Central Asia nations (Ottoman, Mogul, Tatar, Persia) while still a high school kid.

Imagine that you started publishing big hit books at the age of 24 and that you published 15 books and 200 articles in renowned dailies and magazine within 12 years and you were hired and recognized an expert on the Orient.  Lev donned the Ottoman Fez and garments of the Caucasus regions in his home.  You earned plenty of money and recognition and then you were reduced to be penniless and mortally ill.

Imagine you had to play as many roles as countries you live in as immigrant and survived to keep a semblance of sanity in a fast changing world where liberty was doomed to disappear. Imagine that your father is living in Vienna and he is unable to travel and you know that Nazi Germany will most probably get hold of your father and send him to a concentration camp (which was done).

You are longing for a stable and tolerant society but are faced with a barbaric reality of total intolerance and totalitarian ideologies.

Then, you had to suffer the life of a prisoner, unable to travel and communicate freely in an isolated Italian village and had to deal with physical pain every minutes of your life.

Yet, Lev spent 15 hours a day writing and publishing.  His radio and typewriter were taken from him and Lev wrote on cigarette paper and on the marge of books for lack of paper.

It would have been nice to live confortably to an older age; but how else could you learn the secret of life: “Pain is more powerful than life, more powerful than death, love, loyalty, and duty”

Note: I have posted two articles on Lev Nussimbaum if you are interested in his biography.  The information were extracted from the “The Orientalist” by Tom Reiss.

Tom Reiss investigates the identity of an author who wrote in German “Blood and oil in the Orient”, “Ali and Nino”, and “The daughter of the Golden Horn” and signed under Kurban Said.  Kurban Said was known in Germany of the 1920’s as Essad Bey who was the first to describe Stalin in details and accounted for the tormenting period of Baku (Capital of Azerbaijan on the Black Sea and “Zarathustra” land).

It turned out that Essad Bey was Liova Nussimbaum, nicknamed Lev (1905-1942).  Lev is a Jew born in Baku of a rich oil baron from Baku (Abraham) and a mother (Berta Sluzk).  The Sluzk were Jewish serfs working for Prince Sluzki in Ukraine and many converted to Christianity to improve their living conditions.

Berta had left Zürich, headquarters of Russia revolutionaries, and ended up in a Baku.  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. Joseph Stalin, under the code name of Koba, was 28 years old and was leading the Bolshevik groups that asked ransoms in order to provide protection for minority ethnic groups.

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.  Berta bequeathed her library to Lev and Abraham respected his wife’s will and allowed Lev to occupying the library and reading all day long.

Lev was mostly forced to be secluded in his home and 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.  Lev gave accurate description of locations, dates, customs, and fashion of the regions they travelled, but his accounts were mostly fantasies that he dreamt of during his seclusion in Baku.

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 reached the second city of Gandja (ancient capital) walking.  The citizens in Gandja chased out the few Russian soldiers for a few days before the Bolshevik army encircled the city and entered it with the accompanying massacres.

Lev managed to get out of Gandja and stumbled on a German colony-village (Helenendorf) by the borders with Georgia.  This colony was established in 1813 after the Napoleonic wars and Tsar Alexander I encouraged many Germans to populate the Caucasus region.  As Germany invaded Russia in 1940, Stalin made sure to transfer all the Germans in 1941 to Siberia; very few Germans returned to Germany in 1991.

Lev spent some time in Tibilissi (Capital of Georgia) and then, boarded an Italian boat with his father in 1921 to Constantinople.  The French, English, Italian, and Japanese troops had headquarters in different quarters of Constantinople.

Apparently, Nazi Germany studied extensively the procedures and tactics of the Bolshevik Tcheka (secret services) and added its refinements.  Lev and his father settled in Berlin of the 1920’s and wrote his books that were translated and appreciated in the USA.  Lev converted to Islam in 1923 at the Turkish Embassy.  He died in Northern Italy at the age of 35 but looked seventy.  Lev was the first to publish Stalin biography since the Pockennarbige (smallpox face)or Iossif Djougachvili knew Lev’s mother and he stayed in their home in 1920.

I might publish another post on Lev Nussimbaum as I finish reading the book.  You may read my account on Baku https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2010/06/15/bakou-1905/


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