World War II Enigma Machine to be sold at Christie’s auction house

Jun 28, 2020

A Second World War Enigma Machine (Olympia Büromaschinenwerke) from 1944 will be sold at Christie’s upcoming online auction. British Christie’s is the world’s oldest fine art auctioneer, founded in 1766 by James Christie. 

Estimate: GBP 200,000 – GBP 300,000 

Starting Bid: GBP 150,000

Link to bid here.

This lot (serial number M17176) is the property of a private individual.

In the description one can read: “Mathematicians and engineers under the leadership of Alan Turing at Bletchley Park, and of Joe Desch in Dayton, Ohio, had used information and ideas developed by brilliant Polish mathematicians to create what many call the world’s first programmable computers to defeat the M4 Enigma code. By mid-1943 the majority of M4 Enigma messages were being read by the Allies, but it was not until the 1970s that knowledge of the Allied successes against the Enigma was made public. The significant role that the M4 Enigma and that Allied codebreaking played in the Battle of the Atlantic has become increasingly well known as historians have revisited”.

History of Enigma

At the end of December 1932, Marian Rejewski deciphered the first information sent with the German encryption machine Enigma. Co-authors of the Enigma code breaking were Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski. On July 25, 1939, the Polish intelligence disclosed Polish achievements in breaking the German Enigma ciphers to the French and British allies. Work on breaking subsequent versions of “Enigma” continued in the British centre at Bletchley Park. According to historians, breaking the code shortened World War II by 2-3 years.

“Breaking the Enigma code undoubtedly saved thousands of lives and shortened the war. And the Polish contribution was crucial” – former British Ambassador Robin Barnett said during the ceremony on the 75th anniversary of handing over the cipher-breaking methods. He stressed that the British specialists tried to do it, and the French services tried to steal the code books, “but it was Poland that realised that only mathematicians could break the code”. “It was a Polish team of mathematicians led by Marian Rajewski, who ultimately succeeded” – said the British ambassador.

Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk

At the end of December 1932, Marian Rejewski deciphered the first information sent with the German encryption machine Enigma. Co-authors of the Enigma code breaking were Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski.

Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk

Mathematicians Rejewski, Różycki and Zygalski, students of the Poznań University, attended a course for cryptologists organized at that university with the participation of the army. After completing the course, in 1930 they joined the Polish General Staff`s Cipher Bureau. They were working on breaking the code of the German electromechanical encryption machine Enigma. It was constructed in the 1920s to secure commercial communications. It was quickly employed by the German military.

Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk

According to Marek Grajek, author of the book “Enigma. Bliżej prawdy” (“Enigma. Closer to the truth”), breaking the Enigma cipher was considered impossible. The Polish cryptologists succeeded thanks to using mathematical methods instead of linguistic ones. This idea came from Lt. Col. Maksymilian Ciężki from the Cipher Bureau.

The three mathematicians designed a copy of the encryption machine. Copies of this device were built at the AVA Radio Company in Warsaw. Several connected machines formed a cryptological bomb designed to automatically break the German cipher.

In the summer of 1939, in the radio intelligence centre in Pyry near Warsaw, the Polish military authorities gave reconstructed Enigma machines along with information on the broken code to representatives of France and Great Britain.

In September 1939, Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski evacuated through Romania to France. Jerzy Różycki died in January 1942 on a ship that sank in mysterious circumstances in the Mediterranean. The other two mathematicians continued to work on breaking German ciphers in the Polish Army unit in Great Britain.

Science Museum in London

Work on breaking subsequent versions and improvements of the Enigma cipher continued in the British cryptological centre at Bletchley Park. According to historians, thanks to the fact that the Allies knew the information with the Enigma, the Second World War lasted than 2-3 years shorter.

Science Museum in London

In 2000, Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski were posthumously awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta.

Source:, Science in Poland/NB

Pictures: British Poles at the Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk and the Science Museum in London



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