Object acquired by the Surnateum in 1960 from Cassandra
Origin: Brussels, Belgium
Travelling box (ca 1930) containing an Oracle des Dames pack
of divinatory cards, a pair of reading glasses and various documents from
Based on an account by Cassandra Grosemans
"That's how you read the cards! You predict the future. You
foresee good and bad fortunes for those who consult you. You
establish their astrological themes, either for fun or for cold hard cash."
"Of course, once the oracle has been read,
you feel that you are no longer responsible for your actions. But do you
really think that it stops there?"
"Look at this lovely wooden box. It looks so innocent and
harmless. If only you knew its history!
It contains the last oracle of Cassandra, a fated name if ever there
was one. Judith 'Cassandra' Grosemans, the
cultivated young daughter of a good Belgian Jewish family, would read
the cards to earn a bit of money on the side. Most of the time, she was
not concerned about the consequences her gift and predictions might have.
She was not at all interested in follow-up."
"The year 1937 got off to a very bad start indeed for the Jewish
inhabitants of Germany and their friends. Nazi Germany was haunted by
far too many mysterious
disappearances. Gertrud Adelt, a pretty blonde woman in her thirties, and her older husband Leonhard, decided to
visit friends in Belgium before attempting to flee the Third Reich
for the United States. The two families shared a passion for the works
of author Stefan Zweig, who had already gone into exile. The
husband was a journalist working for the Berliner Tageblatt
newspaper; his wife was a critic in Dresden where she worked for the
Dresdener Anzeiger until 1933. Leonhardt had contacts among the
American Rotary Club and when his wife had her press card withdrawn the
couple decided to leave the country by ship in late April in a bid to
emigrate to the United States. Leo had a film project for Hollywood
packed away in his bags and veiled threats gave him reason to believe
that it would be an excellent idea to leave the country and try his luck
"Cassandra did not know of their plans."
"At the party attended by Stefan
Zweig's friends, Cassandra asked Gertrud and Leonhard about their future
plans. Leonhard, who had been warned about Cassandra's inordinate
penchant for the occult sciences, challenged her to guess.
Her ego smarting from the challenge, Cassandra fetched her
Oracle des Dames, a pack of cards popularly used for divination
at that time. She laid out the cards in a cross formation."
"Yes, the very pack found in this box. She mixed the cards
carefully and asked her friend to cut them.
Since that day, the oracle has been condemned to repeat the same
prophecy for all of eternity. As she turned over the first few cards,
she told them that the oracle
saw a man and a blonde woman. "
"She said she saw them preparing to travel across the ocean to
flee the tyranny of a madman and start over again in a free and faraway
"But watch out! The fire of heaven and a shipwreck could lead to
your destruction," she added, as she turned over the cards
symbolising death and a shipwreck."
"The end of the story is written on this German postcard dated 1937,
the last one Gertrud sent to Cassandra."
Frankfurt, 1 May 1937
Meine Liebe Cassandra,
We were very impressed indeed by your oracle reading the other
We intend to leave Germany before that madman Hitler unleashes
the apocalypse. Too many of our friends have already disappeared.
Leonhard sold the steamer tickets for America; we'll now be crossing
the ocean aboard an airship. Leonhard is working on the
biography of Captain Lehman. We will be leaving Frankfurt in early May
on the Hindenburg and are scheduled to arrive in Lakehurst, New
Jersey on 6 May. So, as you can see, your shipwreck prediction will not,
alas, come to pass!
"As you know, the airship Hindenburg exploded on 6 May 1937 in Lakehurst,
killing 36 passengers and crew.
Of the objects found in this box, the glasses that Leonhard had
forgotten in his haste
would haunt Cassandra for the rest of her life."
"If I hold them above my cup of tea, the steam seems to trace out
the shape of waves - indicating that travel by sea would have been safer!"
Epilogue and additional note
Amazingly, the Adelts survived the Hindenburg
diaster and returned to German by ship. During the Second World War, they left
Berlin - and the punishing bombardments - for a town of no strategic interest: Dresden.
On 13 February 1945, Leonhard died in the firestorm that ravaged
Dresden; the prediction had come true. Gertrud survived.
But destiny will not release its tight grip on its prey.
Curiously, Gertrud's brother, a Jesuit exiled in Japan, survived the
cataclysm that annihilated Hiroshima.
This Petit Oracle des Dames
has an interesting feature in that it seems stuck in time. No matter now
much we mix up the cards, when we read them we are always returned to
this very same story - the story of Cassandra.