13th February 2018 is the thirty eighth anniversary of the death of Marian Adam Rejewski, the Polish mathematician who cracked the Enigma code. The code used by the Nazi’s in the lead up to and during the Second World War.
My novel, The Cypher Bureau, is of course inspired by the life of Marian Adam Rejewski but I still find it extra-ordinary how little appears to be known about his achievements, certainly in the United Kingdom. Marian Rejewski and his colleagues Hendry Zygalski and Jerzy Rozycki were awarded an INEE Milestone award, an award given only to persons of good standing whose achievements have changed the world. The award was given post humously in 2014.
The academic world has long recognised the achievements of Rejewski and his colleagues. Why then are his achievements still not widely recognised in Britain?
There would appear to be a number of factors-
The nature of Rejewski’s work was secret. Had it been discovered by the Nazi’s that the Enigma code they were using was not secure then they would have stopped using the code immediately and the work carried out by the Allied cryptologists would have been wasted. All Allied personal involved with Enigma were sworn to secrecy. Indeed, I recall seeing an Octogenarian being interviewed not so terribly long ago about the work she had been involved in at Bletchley Park-Britain’s top secret decoding base, and she refused, very politely to give any information, citing The Official Secrets Act. Ten thousand people worked at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. The Polish Cypher Bureau constructed Enigma machines to their own design in a factory in Warsaw before the outbreak of the Second World War. Further machines were constructed in a factory in Paris during France’s occupation. It was an extra-ordinary achievement that the secret that the code had been broken did not come to the attention of the Nazi’s before the war ended. There is no evidence to suggest that they ever thought the code had been broken. Secrecy was the game of the Allied code breakers and they were good at it!
After the Second World War came The Cold War. Some of the most prominent English codebreakers died during the war or soon afterwards. Dilly Knox of lymphoma in 1943, Alan Turing of cyanide poisoning in 1954 and Alaistair Denniston aged 79 in 1961. They were not able to comment on the legacy. For the Poles, in Russian occupied Poland there would have been no incentive to provide information about their involvement in code breaking. Before leaving Britain to return to Poland, Marian Rejewski was advised that it would be prudent to keep a low profile.
Notwithstanding the above, I think it has been perhaps natural for the British historian to promote the work of Bletchley Park. Alan Turing was an extraordinary mathematician and has been credited with invention of the first computer. However, first to crack the Enigma code he was not. This crown was not claimed by Turing himself. It is those who came afterwards either through ignorance or carelessness.
Perhaps it is a form of nationalism to accredit someone of the same nationality where possible with a prestigious achievement- being Scottish, it is perfectly obvious to me that the Scots invented just about everything- Churchill himself said “Of all the small nations of the earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind.”