Enigma: the Hebrew Adaptation of the German Encryption Machine

— by Meir Deutsch

The CAPCHTA exhibition in the Bernhard Bloomfield Science Museum in Jerusalem has an interesting exhibit: an Enigma machine used by Israel prior to its establishment in 1948.

Enigma was originally invented by Arthur Scherbius for business purposes, but was not successful. During World War II, the German Army, Air Force and Navy used the machine for the encryption and decryption of secret messages.

The Enigma had to undergo the process of conversion to the Hebrew Alphabet which has only 22 letters as against 26 letters in the original. The four letters filling the empty spaces on the Hebrew keyboard were replaced by the letters F, X, Y and V. The Hebrew version did not have the “end letters” on the keyboard. However, it still has still the original instruction in German on the back panel.

Marian Rejewski and the Polish Cipher Bureau were the first to break Germany’s Enigma ciphers, already in December 1932. Before the outbreak of the second World War they gave their findings to the British and French, but the ultimate breakthrough was made by the British: in March 1941, when the German armed trawler ‘Krebs’ was captured off Norway complete with Enigma machines and codebooks, the German naval Enigma code could finally be read. The work of the code breaking, called Ultra, was performed in Bletchley Park.

More after the jump.
The British tried hard to conceal their code breaking success from the Axis. In 1942, when five Italian ships bound for Africa were sunk due to Ultra information, Churchill sent a telegram to Naples congratulating a fictitious spy and awarding him a bonus.


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