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The Enigma of the Enigma

In response to:

The Spooky Side of World War II from the June 23, 2016 issue

To the Editors:

I read in “The Spooky Side of World War II” [NYR, June 23] by Antony Beevor:

Shortly before the war, Polish experts had provided both the British and the French with copies of German Enigma enciphering machines, but the hard-won achievements at Bletchley Park during the Battle of Atlantic could only have happened in the more informal atmosphere of a democracy.

You may know that the Polish government provided France and the UK with “copies of German enciphering machines,” as well as with the fully documented German codes as cracked by three Polish mathematicians: Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rozycki, and Henryk Zygalski, who did it in a sufficiently “democratic atmosphere” of 1932 Poland.

Ryszard Stemplowski
Warsaw, Poland

Antony Beevor replies:

I must apologize to Ryszard Stemplowski for my clumsy phrasing. After acknowledging the important contribution of the Polish government in providing copies of the German Enigma enciphering machines to the British and French, my remark that the “hard-won achievements at Bletchley Park during the Battle of the Atlantic could only have happened in the more informal atmosphere of a democracy” was not aimed at the Polish state, which existed then only as a government-in-exile, but at the Germans, who, despite their enormous investment in code-breaking, achieved little in the way of strategic intelligence through intercepts. The achievements at Bletchley were indeed hard-won since the Enigma system was a lot more sophisticated then than it had been before the war.