One of the most famous Polish codebreakers in WWII, Henryk Zygalski (1908-1978) will be publicly remembered for the first time when a memorial stone is unveiled at his grave in Chichester cemetery 40 years after his death.
In attendance at the ceremony, to be held on September 1 at 5pm, will be the Ambassador of Poland, Dr Arkady Rzegocki and members of Zygalski’s family. On the same day, The History Press publish, for the first time in English, the story about the work of the Polish codebreakers and how instrumental they were in helping Alan Turing decipher the code for Enigma. X,Y&Z is written by Alan’s uncle, Sir Dermot Turing who is a Trustee at Bletchley Park.
Henryk Zygalski was one of the Polish codebreakers who found the solution to the Enigma cipher machine problem before World War II. Their discoveries, handed over to the UK’s Government Code & Cypher School in the nick of time before war began in 1939, provided the intellectual foundation on which Bletchley Park’s success was built. Without their contribution, the British attack on Enigma would have been delayed by many months, possibly years, with unimaginable consequences for the conduct of the War.
Zygalski’s personal involvement with Enigma began in about 1933. Later he was instrumental in inventing a scheme for finding the rotor-settings of the Enigma machine using perforated cardboard sheets, named “Zygalski Sheets”. Using these sheets the Allies were able to decipher encrypted German messages in the first months of 1940, at a time when machine code-breaking methods using the so-called ‘bombes’ were still untried at Bletchley Park. Zygalski had escaped from Poland in 1939 and worked with French Secret Intelligence – under cover after 1940 – until the total occupation of France in 1942. He then escaped to Britain and worked for Polish Secret Intelligence until after the War.
Of the three most famous Polish codebreakers, only Zygalski managed to have a relatively secure post-war life. Jerzy Różicki perished in a shipwreck in 1942; Marian Rejewski returned to Poland in 1945 where he was investigated by the Communist-era secret police and limited to uninspiring work. Zygalski settled in Britain, becoming a mathematics lecturer at what subsequently became the University of Surrey, and had a happy musical life with ‘B’ (his wife) and her family. Obscurity is, however, the fate of those engaged in secret work. Zygalski was buried in Chichester cemetery but until 2018 there has been no memorial to him or his achievements.