Arts & Entertainment

Enigma, Hitler’s secret weapon, on sale at London auction

By Clàudia Sacrest

London, Sep 28 (EFE).- The story of the English mathematician Alan Turing (1912-1954) is well known: he enabled the defeat of the Nazis after deciphering the encrypted messages of the Enigma system, machines that can still be found in museums and auctions like one being held in London on Wednesday.

Two German models of Enigma, fabricated in Berlin in 1938 and 1942 respectively will be the main stars of a 85 lots sale dedicated to all sorts of scientific and technological objects that are to be sold to the highest bidder at Bonhams auction house, nearby the luxurious department store Harrods.

There are still probably a few hundred of these typing machines that the Nazis used to code and uncode messages, according to Bonham’s expert on Science and Technology Instruments Joseph Robson.

“They’re very rare to find from any period in any condition,” he tells Efe in an interview.

Valued between 75,000 and 100,000 pounds (roughly $80,700-167,000 ), the two Heimsoeth & Rinke Enigma machines are composed of three rotators, capable of multiplying the encoded combinations so that they replace letters in a message with others.

As Robson explains, each Enigma machine was originally delivered with five rotors, three of them installed inside and two for spare, they could be replaced with others from different machines.

The Nazis frequently changed the machine’s configurations, so that even if those listening in on the other end cracked the code, it could change completely the following day, a feature deftly demonstrated in the biopic The Imitation Game (2014), in which Turing is played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

The system was apparently implacable until Turing —secluded at Bletchley Park along his team of codebreakers— built a machine that was capable of decrypting the real messages hidden in the communications intercepted by the Allies.

By the end of World War II (1939-1945), British prime minister Winston Churchill ordered for all Enigma machines to be eliminated, while German forces “did their best to dispose of the models they had to avoid them being captured by the Allies,” says Robson.

However, Enigmas did not go extinct — far from it. They may be recognized as WWII icons, but they were still used long after the defeat of the Nazis, during the Cold War.

Robson adds: “We have some stamps and wiring evidence to suggest they were used by the Norwegian secret police. So there are examples that were actually used postwar.”

Wednesday’s auction also includes other instruments for decoding messages, like a Danish crypto pocket watch cipher, a rare instrument fabricated around 1933 that shows “that not only were other countries beyond Germany and South America, developing this kind of material, but also, they were coming up with creative ways in which to do it.”

“So it’s a cipher machine that tries to encrypt and decrypt messages. But it fits in the palm of your hand as a pocket watch,” Robson adds.

The estimated value of the pocket watch is between 8,000 and 12,000 pounds.

Ciphering devices were developed at the beginning of the 20th century for governments and armed forces to send classified information but it was until WWII that these technologies progressed exponentially to conceal war strategies and avoid enemies or spies. EFE


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