Stories of mathematicians

In 1929 Zdzisław Krygowski, a professor at the University of Poznań, organised a secret course on cryptology for the best students of mathematics. Krygowski, who came from the famous Lviv school of mathematics, was approached to do so by the Cipher Bureau of the Polish Army, which decided to use mathematics to break foreign codes. Three mathematicians were selected from the course participants: Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Różycki. Not long after, they had a chance to come face-to-face with the Enigma code.

Henryk Zygalski, Jerzy Różycki and Marian Rejewski in Bruno station, near Paris, 1940.

Marian
Rejewski

1905 -1980

He was the first person who managed to break the code of the German Enigma cipher machine in 1932. He formulated a permutations theory which, according to historians, ‘won’ the Second World War, enabling cryptographers to read secret German messages.

Rejewski, born in Bydgoszcz, was a son of a tobacco merchant. It is no surprising, therefore, that he inherited talent for mathematics from his father. He also spoke German fluently and was a moderate supporter of the political movement called National Democracy. He decided to study at the University of Poznań’s Department of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. Along with Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Różycki, he created a team at the Poznań branch of the Cipher Bureau located at today’s ul. Kościuszki and began to work on breaking the Enigma code. After a breakthrough, which came when they were already in Warsaw, Rejewski devised a cyclometer and the so-called bomba, which made the work of Polish cryptologists a lot easier.

When the war broke out in 1939, he managed to reach France and then England. When he returned to Poland in 1946 and moved in with his family in Bydgoszcz, he was constantly being followed by agents of the Communist secret police. Because he was hiding the fact that he had been working for the pre-war Cipher Bureau, he could only take jobs below his skill level (for example as a company accountant). He gained recognition for his achievements only at the end of his life in the 1970s when the story of the breaking of the Enigma code was made public. He died in 1980 and was buried in Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw.

Henryk
Zygalski

1908
-1978

He was the only one of the Enigma codebreakers born in Poznań and the author of the famous perforated sheets which were used already before the war to decipher German messages.

His parents had a tailoring studio. Zygalski lived and grew up in the Poznań district of Łazarz, in a tenement house at ul. Matejki. He attended the famous St Mary Magdalene Gymnasium, spoke German fluently and was musically gifted. More importantly, however, he had a scientific mind. That is why, after his school-leaving exam, he began to study mathematics at the University of Poznań. He was an outstanding student. During his third year he met Marian Rejewski and Jerzy Różycki on a course on cryptology. They were recruited by the Poznań branch of the Cipher Bureau. The sheets he invented enabled them to determine the order of Enigma’s coding rotors. Zygalski and Rejewski, who had been evacuated from Poland during the war, went their separate ways after the conflict. Zygalski stayed abroad and worked as a maths teacher. He died in 1978 in Liss.

Jerzy
Różycki

1909 -1942

As the only one of the three mathematicians, he was born in the Borderlands, in Olszana.

He loved mathematics, geography, astronomy and foreign languages, and spoke German fluently. He studied mathematics at the University of Poznań and followed the same path, from the University to the Cipher Bureau, as Rejewski and Zygalski. He worked with them on deciphering German radio communication. Różycki devised the so-called clock method, which enabled him to determine the choice and position of the rotor in the German Enigma machine.

When the war broke out, he was moved to France. In the summer of 1941 he was sent to Algiers and was supposed to reach a French decryption centre in Cadix. However, he died tragically in the shipwreck of Lamoricière in 1942.