Since time immemorial, there have always been some sections of the population that are the butt of jokes. These jokes exaggerate supposed (or real) idiosyncrasies and are often unkind , if not exactly malicious. In England , the Irish are the usual victims of ethnic jokes . In the U.S , those on the receiving end are the Italians , the Irish, the Jews , the Mexicans , and , above all , the Poles who are characterized as dumb. There are many theories about why this is so and I won’t go into them here since it is not possible to say which one is true . I will say that the description of the Polish as being dumb is far from the truth. As proof I offer this story of the breaking of the Nazi’s famed Enigma Code during World War II.
Enigma was a coding machine , developed by a German inventor in the 1920’s for business uses but adapted by the German navy to send messages to its U-boats during WW II. The machine had at its front a typewriter keyboard and , directly behind , a battery of electric lights each bearing a letter of the alphabet and laid out identically to the keyboard.When a key was pressed , one of the letters would light up but before it did the letter would be converted six times – by four rotors , a reflector and a plugboard. Thus the machine could dispense for each letter of the alphabet no less than 150,000,000,000,000,000,000 substitutions . The resulting gibberish was broadcast to a recipient who would key it into another Enigma machine which would decrypt the message. Decryption was possible only if the recipient had the same rotors and had set them and the plugs identically with the encrypting machine. No wonder the Germans thought that Enigma could never be breached.
It was . By the Poles. As soon as the Germans started using the machine , the Poles , aware of Germany’s enmity , put their mathematicians to work on Enigma intercepts . The Poles attacked the plethora of possibilities to find the key to the code. Remember this was before the era of computers. In a tremendous feat of intellectual heroism , they broke the Enigma Code , using no tools except pencil and paper. Mind boggling isn’t it ? They built working models of Enigma machines and when their country was overrun by the Nazis in 1939 , they gave their results and a prototype machine to the British.
The British fed the information to the U.S which used it to hunt down and destroy the ” milk cows ” , big submarine tankers which enabled U-boats to be refueled at sea and thus increased their range and effectiveness.That Enigma was cracked was kept a closely guarded secret and the Germans never tumbled to why they were suffering heavy losses to their U-tankers. The importance of this codebreaking coup cannot be overstated as it mitigated the U-boat threat and was responsible for saving countless Allied ships and seamen .
In most books that I have read , the credit for breaking the code is given to the British but it really belongs to the Poles. And to think they did it using only paper and pencil ! Not so dumb , were they ?
( Reference ” A Measureless Peril ” by Richard Snow Pgs. 270-275)