An Enigma - Poland's Cryptic Coins
September 21, 2007
Polish Mathematicians Outwit German Enigma
A year or so ago I got on a Submarine movie kick. I watched Das Boot, The Hunt For Red October, K-19: The Widowmaker and U-571. All great movies which I would recommend, but one caveat I have learned about U-571 is that it lacks a bit of credibility for straying so far from its historical basis.
U-571 portrays a U.S submarine crew capturing a German Enigma Encrytion Machine. Unfortunately there never was a U-571 sub, or an American crew that early in WWII that captured one of these coding devices. Later in the war of course U.S. ships did capture at least one Enigma Encryption Machine, which is on display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago along with the German submarine, which was also captured by American servicemen. Other museums also have Enigma Machines and other materials on display, as we are all fascinated by the history of this big little corner of WWII.
Earlier it was the British who got their hands on Enigma Machines and began the work of cracking them at their Benchley Park facility. Mathematicians and cryptanalysts like Alan Turing did an excellent job of breaking the codes, which in turn helped the British Government to decode German communications.
Most of this history is fairly well known, due to the efforts of web based historians like Tony Sales, who have done a great job of telling the now declassified secret stories of codes and code breaking during WWII. Even so, there are still a few lesser known tales to tell, like the that of American engineers in Dayton, Ohio who built an advanced bombes decoding machine or the Polish Cipher Bureau mathematicians Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rozycki and Henryk Zygalski, who first cracked the German Enigma Encryption Machine back in 1932 and turned the machine and their work results over to the Allies in France in 1939, at great person risk to themselves even as their own country was overrun by the Germans.
In fact I was pleased to see recently that the Polish Mint was honoring those humble individuals and their almost superhuman efforts on two coins. Both coins have legends noting the 75th Anniversary of the Breaking of the Enigma Codes. The 8g 100 Zlotych gold coin has a mintage limit of 8,000 pieces and sells for $369.95 from Talisman Coins, the U.S distributor for the Polish Mint. The Nordic Gold (copper-aluminum-tin-zinc) 2 Zlote coin is less expensive at $4.95 and even offers us the last names of the cryptanalysts who cracked the Enigma and that's a honor I am sure they would be proud to see come to light.
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