Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing saved two Jewish refugees

Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing saved two Jewish refugees

World War Two genius who helped Britain crack Germany's 'impenetrable' code rescued Jews from the clutches of Nazi Germany

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

Turing at Bosham in 1939 with two Jewish refugee boys he rescued from Nazi Germany 

(Rex Shutterstock)
Turing at Bosham in 1939 with two Jewish refugee boys he rescued from Nazi Germany (Rex Shutterstock)

Documents and photos showing how World War Two codebreaker Alan Turing sponsored two Jewish refugee children from Austria and helped educate them in the UK have been put on show in Cambridge.

Turing, the maths genius who broke the German Enigma code while working at the top-secret Bletchley Park during the war, is today known as the father of artificial intelligence and famed for inventing the modern computer.

However it is little known that Turing and his friend from King’s College, Cambridge, Fred Clayton, co-sponsored two Jewish boys brought to the UK after Kristallnacht in November 1938. 

Clayton had spent time studying in Vienna and Dresden between 1935 and 1937, and knew of the Jewish experience in Germany and Austria at that time, and had felt a particular resonance when a Cambridge professor held a welcome reception for Jewish refugees recently arrived.

Clayton and Turing, who was then aged 26, decided to help and learnt about two Jewish boys at a refugee camp on the coast, at Harwich, having been brought to the UK by Quakers’ Relief Action.

One wet Sunday in February 1939 the two men cycled to the camp and agreed to sponsor the boys. Clayton sponsored the boy from Dresden, known only as Karl, while Turing took responsibility for the boy from Vienna, called Robert Augenfeld.

Robert, or Bob as Turing preferred to call him, wanted to be a chemist and came from a distinguished Viennese family, his father having been aide-de-camp in World War One. Turing heard that Rossall, a public school in Lancashire, was taking refugee children without a fee and got Bob accepted. 

The maths prodigy took a great deal of interest in Bob’s subsequent education and career, even as Britain was waging war with Germany.

A letter from Turing to his mother, sent from Bletchley at some point between 1940 and 1944, shows him discussing Bob’s future. It is among the documents displayed for the first time this week in a new exhibition, ‘Codebreakers and Groundbreakers’.

Alongside the letter, in the exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge, is a photo of Turing, Clayton, Bob and Karl sailing in Bosham in Sussex, taken in August 1939.

While they were holidaying by the sea, Hitler and Stalin were signing a treaty of non-aggression, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and war between Nazi Germany and Britain became inevitable. 

The letter and photo are on loan to the Fitzwilliam Museum from the Turing Archive held at King’s College, Cambridge, and the exhibition is to run until 4 February 2018.

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