Analysis Seminar

Title: German mathematicians and cryptology during World War II
Speaker: Sandy Zabell
Speaker Info: Northwestern University
Brief Description:
Special Note:

German mathematicians and cryptology during World War II. (Joint with Frode Weierud)

By now, a great deal is known about the contributions of Alan Turing, I. J. Good, Max Newman, and other mathematicians who worked at Bletchley Park during World War II. But what about the other side? Until recently, very little was known about the German mathematicians who aided the Nazi war effort: who were they, where did they work, and what did they do? This is not surprising: "Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”

But now, thanks to the release of a large number of TICOM documents during the last several years, an initial picture is beginning to emerge. In this talk we will identify the most important mathematicians who worked in the different German cryptologic organizations during the war: who they were, how they were recruited, which organizations they were in, and what they did (when this is known). Although their successes never rivaled those of Bletchley Park, they did have successes, and these were sometimes due to the efforts of talented mathematicians who went on to have distinguished careers after the war.

Just as was the case with Bletchley Park, most of these mathematicians returned to academia after the war. But one of them, Dr. Erich Huttenhain, who had been the chief cryptologist for OKW/Chi, remained on the inside, serving the West German government in important positions in cryptology for more than two decades.

One question that motivated this study was to understand the reasons for the German communications security meltdown during the war: how they got the Enigma and Tunny security assessments partly right but mostly wrong. As will be seen, this was not to a lack of talent: some of the very best German mathematicians contributed to their war effort: for example, Teichmuller, Witt, Rinow, Hasenjaeger, Stein, Grunsky, and Rohrbach (all of whom enjoyed distinguished academic careers after the war). The answer lies instead in how these potentially very useful assets were actually used (in striking contrast to what happened at Bletchley Park).

Date: Monday, October 19, 2015
Time: 4:10pm
Where: Lunt 105
Contact Person: Antonio Auffinger
Contact email: auffing@math.northwestern.edu
Contact Phone: 847-491-5580
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