Inv. SID/oc-47577

Object acquired by the Surnateum in 1960 from Cassandra Grosemans
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 that time.


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 Leonhardt had contacts among the American Rotary Club and when his wife had her press card withdrawn the couple decided to leave the country by ship in late April in a bid to emigrate to the United States.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 elsewhere."
"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 country.
"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 night.
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!
Gertrud Adelt

"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.