Jewish Bletchley Park code-breaker dies aged 97

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Jewish Bletchley Park code-breaker dies aged 97

Rolf Noskwith, who worked under Alan Turing on Germany's Enigma machine, passes away

A Jewish man who helped crack the Enigma code at Bletchley Park during the war has died aged 97.

Rolf Noskwith was a Cambridge undergraduate reading Mathematics in 1939 when war broke out, and he was soon off to work with brilliant minds such as Alan Turing at the secret code-breaking centre.

German-born Noskwith, who passed away on Tuesday, arrived in Britain with his parents in 1932, and was keen to help fight Hitler, but was initially rejected for the armed forces, and could not get a job as a linguist, owing to his place of birth.

Finally, after being interviewed by a famous duo – scientist C P Snow and chess champion Hugh Alexander, Noskwith was accepted as a cryptographer, and on his 22nd birthday, started work in Bletchley’s Hut 8, under the direct tutelage of Turing, who had by then broken the German Navy’s supposedly unbreakable coding device.

Many messages were still corrupt, however, and Noskwith’s job was to guess meanings or ‘crib’ from the German, then run it through the “bombe” (decoding) machine which could use hundreds of variables, until the message made sense and was decoded.

One such message concerned the Struma, a ship carrying Jewish refugees on their way to Israel, which was sunk in the Black Sea, with almost all passengers killed.

After the war he worked in the family’s hosiery and lingerie firm Charnos, based in Derbyshire. Years later he met former Bletchley Park colleague Walter Eytan (Ettinghausen), who had since gone to work as a diplomat in Israel. Noskwith offered his services as a code-breaker to the new state, to which Eytan replied: “Code-breakers we have plenty of!”

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