An epitome of ciphering technology of its time and a testimony of the unmatched acumen of Polish cryptologists who broke its code — a replica of the German-produced ciphering machine Enigma is now on display in the Kordegarda Gallery in Warsaw as part of the “Enigma: A Riddle Solved” exhibition.
The replica of Enigma was created by the Polish intelligence service to decipher messages sent with the use of the original German-produced encrypting machine. Now, for the first time in Poland’s history, the replica is made available to the public.
Descendants of Polish cryptologists see their ancestors’ work and cannot withhold their awe. Even at the time when the cryptologists were applying all of their mental capacities to replicate the machine, few people in Europe believed that such a feat was possible to achieve.
“It was a few billion combinations ... as the saying goes, Poles can pull it off,” said Maciej Grodecki, a family member of Jerzy Różycki — one of the Polish cryptologists who broke the Enigma code.
The Poles were then able to do what no British or French intelligence had ever attempted.
As director of the Polish History Museum Robert Kostro said, “this is an absolutely unique object, there is only one in the world. It is a testimony to one of the most interesting achievements of Polish cryptologists, Polish mathematicians, and Polish intelligence.”
The accompanying exhibition is praised for conveying a riveting and yet complex story in a nutshell. “Indeed, it is unique that we can see it here, and also in a very condensed way, this difficult story has been told,” said a visitor.
In 1932, three cryptologists: Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Różycki broke the Enigma code for the first time. As WWII broke out only in 1939, they had time to produce more replicas. However, once Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Polish intelligence had to efface evidence of the cryptologists’ activities by destroying all of the replicas.
“They were destroyed in September 1939, only two were transported to France and this replica was produced based on the documentation found there,” explained Grzegorz Dumała, the curator of the “Enigma: A Riddle Solved” exhibition. He added that “the Polish Cipher Bureau later resumed its work in France.” Pointing to the Polish and then the German version of Enigma, the director stresses their near identity. “A few details are different, however appearance did not matter,” he says, adding that “the Polish replica is visually different from the military Enigma, but it should work and works — Poles read German messages the same way as the military Enigma.”
In 1939, the Polish intelligence passed on its knowledge about the Enigma to the French and the British intelligence. Historians estimate that thanks to this, up to 3 million people were saved during the war.
Referring to the ongoing national celebration, Minister of Culture, Sports and National Heritage Prof. Piotr Gliński remarked that “we will be able to celebrate Independence Day with something so unique, a memento, an artefact of Polish history and the great achievement of a group of outstanding Polish scientists.”
A replica of the Enigma machine can be viewed at the Kordegarda gallery in Krakowskie Przedmieście street in Warsaw.