The uncanny words of Nostradamus In the autumn of 1939, when Adolph Hitler was in the midst of unleashing war on the world, the wife of his Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, drew attention to a remarkable set of prophecies that had been made 400 years earlier. Written by a Frenchman named Nostradamus, they seemed to predict the rise of Hitler, and even came near to mentioning him by name, when they referred to a German leader called Hister. Unfortunately for Hitler, even the most skilled interpretation of the prophecies could not predict success for the Third Reich-so the Propaganda Ministry composed fake verses. In 1940 the Luftwaffe dropped thousands of "Nostadamus leaflets" over France and Belgium, announcing that Germany would be victorious and prophesying that southeastern France would be spared in the conflict. The aim was to ensure that refugees would not choke the roads leading to Paris and the channel ports. In retaliation British Intelligence also made up "Nostradamus writings," but these, of course, predicted an outright Allied victory over the Axis. A revolutionary doctor Michel de Nostredame-who later latinized his name to Nostradamus-was born in 1503 in St. Remy de Provence, France. His family was Jewish but converted to Christianity, and the " young Michel was brought up as a Catholic. He was a brilliant student, who first became famous as a skilled physician deleag with plague victims. Many of his sucesses in the field were undoubtedly due to his refusal to bleed patients, a revoluntionary concept in the early 16th century. He was ahead of his time in other ways too; Nostradamus proclaimed that the earth circles the sun, 100 years before Galileo's findings. His prophetic gifts came to light in 1555 when he published the first of 10 books, all simply entitled Centuries. Each volume contained 100 predictions, all of which were written in verse form. Nostradamus never made any secret of his technique for looking into the future. He placed a bowl of water on a brass tripod and gazed into it, in much the same way as a fortune-teller intently studies a crystal ball. But occasionally his predictions came to him in spontaneous flashes of intuition. One day, when he was a young man and traveling in Italy, he fell on his knees before a passing monk named Felice Peretti. To the astonishment of the monk and onlookers alike, Nostradamus declared: "I kneel before His Holiness." In 1585 the monk became Pope Sixtus V. And once when visited by Catherine de Medici, he was intrigued by a boy in her entourage, proclaiming that he would one day be King of France. The boy was Henry of Navarre who became Henry IV. Exhumation foretold On another occasion a French nobleman tried to confound Nostradamus' prophetic powers. He asked him to predict the fate of two suckling pigs he had in his yard. The answer was that the nobleman would eat the black one, and a wolf the white one. The nobleman instantly ordered the white one to be killed for dinner that night. When dining later with Nostradamus, he was amazed when told that a tame wolf cub had carried off the meat of the white pig and that he was, after all, eating the black one. Before he died in 1566, the prophet had a date engraved on a small metal plate, instructing that this should be placed with him in his coffin. In 1700 the coffin was taken from the grave, where it had lain for 134 years, and was moved to a more prominent site. The plate was resting on the prophet's skeleton. It bore the date 1700. To avoid being accused of witchcraft by the Inquisition, Nostradamus confused the dating of his predictions and wrote in a bewildering mixture of anagrams, symbols, Old French, Latin, and other languages.This deliberate confusion has led to some curious and widely varied interpretations of his prophecies. Even so, many of his predictions are uncannily close to the facts-enough to justify his reputation as the greatest prophet Europe has ever produced.