Lev Nussimbaum was born in October 1905, according to himself in a train, though documents in the Kiev State Archives and the Kiev Synagogue state that Lev Nussimbaum was born in Kiev. Nussimbaum's birth was originally registered in the Kyiv Synagogue.
His father, Abraam Leybusovich Nussimbaum, was a Jew from Tiflis, in the present-day Georgia, born in 1875, who later migrated to Baku and invested in oil. His mother Basya Davidovna Nussimbaum, according to her marriage certificate, was a Jew from Belarus. She committed suicide on February 16, 1911 in Baku when Nussimbaum was five years old. Apparently, she had embraced left-wing politics and was possibly involved in the underground Communist movement. Nussimbaum's father then hired Alice Schulte, a woman of German ethnicity to be his son's governess.
In 1918, Lev and his father fled Baku because of the massacres that were taking place in the streets. According to Essad Bey's first book, "Blood and Oil in the Orient," which historians do not consider to be very reliable, the two travelled through Turkestan and Persia. However, of this adventurous journey there is no record except in Nussimbaum's own writings. Nussimbaum and his father returned to Baku but when the Bolsheviks took Baku in the spring of 1920, they fled to Georgia where they stayed until the Bolsheviks took Tiflis and Batumi.
Lev Nussimbaum, as Essad Bey, wrote his first book Oel und Blut im Orient (Blood and Oil in the Orient) in German in 1929. Although he claims that his account was autobiographical, historians in Azerbaijan and Georgia refute the possibility as there are many major factual errors in the historical description. Essad Bey describes how as a child, aged 14, his delight in leaving Azerbaijan. In the final passage of the book, he writes: "At that moment, Europe began for me. The Old East was dead."
Then they managed to board a ship to Constantinople to where thousands of refugees had fled. Later, Nussimbaum eventually settled in Berlin (1921–1933), where he enrolled simultaneously in high school and in Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität. He did not graduate from either, but told people that he had a Cand. Phil.
In 1926, he began writing under the pen name of Essad Bey for the literary journal Die literarische Welt (The Literary World). At least 120 articles were published under his name. By the early 1930s, Essad Bey had become a popular author throughout Western Europe, writing mainly about contemporary historical and political issues.
Politically, Bey was a monarchist. In 1931, he joined the German-Russian League Against Bolshevism, the members of which, Daniel Lazare remarks, "for the most part either were Nazis or soon would be". He also joined the Social Monarchist Party, which advocated restoration of Germany's Hohenzollern dynasty. He also had connections to the pre-fascistic Young Russian movement, headed by Alexander Kazembek.
In 1932, Essad Bey married Erika Loewendahl—daughter of shoe magnate Walter Loewendahl. The marriage failed, ending in scandal. Erika ran off with Nussimbaum's colleague René Fülöp-Miller in 1935. Erika's parents, who were wealthy, succeeded in getting the marriage to Lev Nussimbaum Essad Bey annulled in 1937.
In 1938, when the Germans occupied Austria, Nussimbaum fled to Italy and settled in the seacoast town of Positano. He died there of a rare blood disorder which causes gangrene of the extremities—most likely Buerger's disease, which is known to afflict Ashkenazi male Jews, or Raynaud's Disease.
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