Polski English


The Enigma = puzzle. A human can’t even image it.
“Enigma” – comes from Greek “ainigma” – “puzzle”. This is how the German engineer Arthur Scherbius called an electro-mechanical cipher machine constructed by himself and produced by him since 1918 in a factory Scherbius & Ritter which was set up together with Richard Ritter. The machine which was initially exploited for commercial purposes over time was put into use in state institutions of many countries.

The 1st World War proved that traditional, manual cipher methods became impractical. In contrast to a human who makes mistakes, the machine guaranteed speed, infallibility and security of encrypting and reading out of messages. Therefore, the Enigma was also applied by the Reichswehr and later, during the 2nd World War, was exploited by Wehrmacht. Scherbius’s machine which could generate the unimaginable number of combinations surpassed everything that cryptologists had met with by then.

Marriage of cryptology and mathematics. Cryptologist race.»

From the beginning the fate made cryptology walk arm in arm with victory in the Polish Army. Breaking of Soviet ciphers determined the result of the Polish-Soviet War 1919-1920 and laid foundations of the Cipher Bureau. Although officers and soldiers of newly organised forces derived from armies of the invasive countries – thus, they knew mentality, languages, communication procedures of the enemy – success in the cryptology service was anyway determined by combination of talent and luck. When messages encrypted with the Enigma started to be broadcast, the Lieutenant Maksymilian Ciężki who was a head of the German section within the Cipher Bureau realised that time of the old methods of cracking ciphers was over. At that time he relied on science because apart from talent and luck mathematicians’ skills and tools were indispensable to achieve success. He invited 26 students of the Faculty of Mathematics of the Poznań University to take part in a cryptology course and eight of them, the most able trainees, later began works in a branch of the Cipher Bureau in Poznań. After three years of practice in the profession (it is interesting that during this time they did not hear the name Enigma even once) three of them were left: Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski.

In 1932 Maksymilian Ciężki transferred his students to Warsaw and soon revealed to Rejewski the reason why they had been chosen. Rejewski immediately focused on purely mathematical properties of the Enigma’s cipher and did not waste time on attempts to apply traditional cryptology methods. First, he found that the cipher had a cyclical character, which became a basis for most methods of attack on rotor machines. He built a mathematical model of the machine to finally reconstruct the Enigma and, by regenerating keys to the cipher, to read out the first message. Just in time, because Hitler seized power in Germany only a month later.

Constructors of the Enigma took into account the fact that in case of a war the machine sooner or later would get into hands of an enemy. A daily change of a key to the cipher served as a mechanism for protection of messages. Thilo Schmidt who worked in the Berlin Chiffierstelle Hans was selling keys to the French. However, they and later the British to whom the French disclosed the secret found his information useless and, as such, delivered to Poles. Ciężki could just deliver the keys to his subordinates, but decided to keep them in a safe and the mathematicians devised a number of other methods for reconstruction of keys.

As a matter of fact, instead of saying that the “Enigma was cracked” it should be said that the “Enigma was being cracked”. The Germans were introducing further changes to improve construction of the machine and methods of its exploitation, therefore works on methods of quick breaking of keys to ciphers were being carried out on a continuous basis. In 1935 the Polish mathematicians were the first to set a machine supporting decryption, called a cyclometer, against the cipher machine. Additionally, in 1938 the so-called “Rejewski bomb” was built and the so-called “Zygalski sheets” i.e. sheets of paper with holes in places where the Enigma’s cipher showed a specific property were another invention. After superimposing several sheets, they could find a valid, on a particular day, key to a cipher. Simultaneously with works of the Polish cryptologists there was a race of military theoreticians to work out rules under which the war was supposed to develop. On an unprecedented scale so far Guderian’s army would use radio and the Enigma which protected messages sent via radio became a keystone of the Blitzkrieg construction.

First interallied contacts. Transfusion of hope. War.»

Over time it turned out that the Polish mathematicians were waging a lone war with the Enigma’s ciphers. In January 1939 in Paris a British-French-Polish meeting of cryptologists was held. A commander of the Polish Cipher Bureau, Colonel Gwido Langer, together with the second-in-command Ciężki went to France with instructions on revealing the success only if the partners had proved to be similarly advanced in attack on the Enigma. Since the British and the French knew nearly nothing about the machine, the Polish officers kept silent encountering a disrespectful attitude from the main cryptologist of the British government agency – Dillwyn Knox. When the war was closer, Langer and Ciężki obtained consent of the Polish Armed Forces commanders to disclose the revelation to the Allies. A meeting in July in a secret centre of radio intelligence in Pyry near Warsaw abounded in emotions. The French showed grievance and the British ostentatious indifference. However, Rejewski with colleagues kept presence of mind systematically demonstrating mathematical foundations, rules on reconstruction of machines and cracking of keys as well as details on a structure of the decryption devices built by them. Finally, before the observers’ eyes they deciphered a new-received message. The two delegations were granted a copy of the machine and a full set of documentation on methods of decryption.

After an escape from the invaded country, a majority of the Polish team of cryptologists went to France where on 17 January 1940 for the first time during the war the Polish mathematicians cracked the Enigma’s cipher. However, a burden of the events connected with the Enigma gradually moved to the Great Britain, to the cryptology centre in the Bletchley Park. The authors of the breakthrough were sidetracked. In 1943 some members of the team of the Cipher Bureau were captured by the Germans after being betrayed by the French. They experienced tragedy of the prisoner of war camps and concentration camps. However, even under such circumstances they kept for the Allies the secret of breaking the Enigma’s ciphers.

Polish ideas in the Bletchley Park. Closer to the truth.»

Meanwhile, since autumn in 1939 the information delivered directly before the war by the Polish mathematicians was being put into practice in the Great Britain. Finally, the British noticed the sense in recruitment of mathematicians. On 4 September 1939 a gate of the centre in the Bletchley Park was crossed by Alan Turing and the “bomb” built by him became the main tool for breaking the Enigma. The Polish mathematicians who shared their secret without any preconditions became needless and although the importance of the Polish mathematicians’ contribution was after several years beautifully recognised by Professor John Irving Good who regarded one of the theorems formulated by Rejewski during a pioneering attack on the Enigma’s cipher as the “theorem which won the 2nd World War”, Rejewski and Zygalski learnt about activities of the centre in the Bletchley Park not earlier than thirty years after the war. In May 1945 after being freed from captivity and arriving in London, also Langer and Ciężki were given the cold shoulder. They died embittered, poor and lonely.

Just as the Enigma was a mystery since cryptology itself was enigmatic, mysterious and hidden in the shade of diplomatic offices also the breaking of the Enigma’s codes turned out to be a puzzle and secret. We set a target for the exhibition presented in the European Parliament to reveal the secret and disclose the truth. We wish to show how much, with regard to the Enigma, Europe needed Poles and how much they were underestimated, whereas they did the impossible – deciphered victory.

At that time – victory in the most terrible conflict of the 20th century. Today, in the world of peace – victory over omnipotence of computer science. Since it is cryptology, married by Rejewski to mathematics, that secures Internet transactions, ensures confidentiality of correspondence, makes it possible to safely use money in any place in the world and protects our privacy. It guards new secrets which should remain unrevealed.