World War II Enigma cipher machine up for auction

A rare, fully-operational Enigma cipher machine from World War II will go up for auction at Sothebys tomorrow as part of an amazing History of Science & Technology auction (also including Richard Feynman's Nobel Prize). The Enigma is expected to go for around $200,000.

From a 1999 article I wrote for Wired:

German soldiers issued an Enigma were to make no mistake about their orders if captured: Shoot it or throw it overboard. Based on electronic typewriters invented in the 1920s, the infamous Enigma encryption machines of World War II were controlled by wheels set with the code du jour. Each letter typed would illuminate the appropriate character to send in the coded message.

In 1940, building on work by Polish code breakers, Alan Turing and his colleagues at the famed UK cryptography center Bletchley Park devised the Bombe, a mechanical computer that deciphered Enigma-encoded messages. Even as the Nazis beefed up the Enigma architecture by adding more wheels, the codes could be cracked at the Naval Security Station in Washington, DC - giving the Allies the upper hand in the Battle of the Atlantic. The fact that the Allies had cracked the Enigma code was not officially confirmed until the 1970s.

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Introducing Faces of Auschwitz

The Auschwitz Memorial Archives preserves 38,916 photos of registered prisoners: 31,969 photos of men & 6,947 photos of women. These photographs were taken from the first quarter of 1941 until spring 1943. In total, 400,000 people were registered as prisoners of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. The math on this suggests that we've got photos of less than 10% of the prisoners that were held, murdered, or, if they were very lucky, survived the camp. The lives of each and every one of these individuals deserves to be honored. In collaboration with photo restoration and colorization specialist Marina Amaral and the Auschwitz Memorial Museum, I'm working on a project that aims to do exactly that.

Faces of Auschwitz is a project that will tell the story of each of the 38,916 registered prisoners that we have photos of, based on what records of their lives we have. Each week, we'll talk about the story of another prisoner of Auschwitz. Some will have survived. A few managed to escape. Most of those we profile will have died behind the barbed wire perimeter of the concentration camp. Marina's talents in photo restoration and colorization will breathe new life into the fading pictures of prisoners, bringing their faces into the modern era, while at the same time, ensuring that the colors used in the process are historically accurate.

 

While the Auschwitz Concentration Camp is infamously known for its role in Nazi Germany's plans to eradicate European Jewry, other groups were also tortured and senselessly murdered inside the camp’s walls as well: members of Poland's leadership, intellectuals, clergy and resistance activists, Sinti & Roma, Soviet POWs, Jehovah witnesses and homosexuals. Read the rest

Russia's anti-Nazi women's sniper unit, colorized

These smiling assassins enlisted as snipers when Germany invaded Russia in 1941. "We mowed down Hitlerites like ripe grain," said Lyudmila Pavlichenko aka Lady Death, one of many elite snipers whose photos were colorized by Olga Shirnina aka Klimbim. Read the rest

Railroad women of 1943

Retronaut posted a fabulous gallery of women railroad workers from World War II. [via] Read the rest

Enigma encryption machine from World War II sells for $233,000

A rare Enigma machine, the proto-computer used by the Nazis to send codes during World War II, just sold at auction for $233,000 to an unnamed buyer. Of course, the Enigma code was cracked by Alan Turing and the other cypherpunks at Bletchley Park. Read the rest

America's broken promise to veterans who survived race-based chemical weapons testing in WWII

"It took all the skin off your hands," says former Army soldier Rollins Edwards. "Your hands just rotted."

Watch a WWII plane pick up a man and a sheep while flying at full speed

People do weird things for war. Read the rest

Secret Nazi nuclear weapons testing bunker unearthed in Austria

An underground weapons bunker built by Nazis to test nuclear and chemical weapons has been unearthed in Austria. Read the rest

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II

Enjoy this great slideshow of photos about WW II workers in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

At the height of World War II, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was home to 75,000 residents, consuming more electricity than New York City. But to most of the world, the town did not exist. Thousands of civilians — many of them young women from small towns across the South — were recruited to this secret city, enticed by solid wages and the promise of war-ending work. Kept very much in the dark, few would ever guess the true nature of the tasks they performed each day in the hulking factories in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains. That is, until the end of the war—when Oak Ridge’s secret was revealed.

Drawing on the voices of the women who lived it—women who are now in their eighties and nineties — The Girls of Atomic City rescues a remarkable, forgotten chapter of American history from obscurity. Denise Kiernan captures the spirit of the times through these women: their pluck, their desire to contribute, and their enduring courage. Combining the grand-scale human drama of The Worst Hard Time with the intimate biography and often troubling science of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Girls of Atomic City is a lasting and important addition to our country’s history.

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The true story of the woman who performed mercy abortions at Auschwitz

Gisella Perl was Romanian and Jewish. She was a gynaecologist at a time and place where very few women went into the medical professions. In 1944, she and her entire family were shipped off to Auschwitz, where Perl was instructed to provide medical care for her fellow inmates — medical care that was supposed to happen without even the most basic medical supplies.

In this position, she was officially employed by Josef Mengele, and she saw what happened to women who entered Auschwitz while pregnant. The short answer was death. The long answer was that those deaths were often horrifying and drawn-out. So Gisella Perl gave herself a new job — protecting women by helping them hide evidence of pregnancy and by performing abortions with her bare hands.

I'd never heard Perl's story before. It's heartbreaking. And it's riveting. The Holocaust History Project has a long and well-cited version. Read the rest

Forced internment of British civilians during World War II

Something I didn't know about world history: During World War II, the British government rounded up thousands of its own citizens — people of German, Austrian, or Italian ancestry. Some were put into camps, others deported to Canada and Australia. Others were simply labeled as potential enemies and spied upon. The really crazy part: Many of these people were Jewish refugees who had become citizens of Britain in order to get away from the Nazis. (Via Carol Roth) Read the rest

How we learned to mass-produce penicillin

A moldy cantaloupe launched the (unfortunately) brief era of antibiotic supremacy.

He's Watching You: WWII poster meets Darth Vader in Star Wars mash-up

Boing Boing reader Brock Davis (FB, Twitter, Tumblr) shares this wonderful illustration in the Boing Boing Flickr Pool: "He's Watching You," a mash-up of Star Wars and World War II propaganda art.

"I've been wanting to draw this for a while," says Brock. "I love Glen Grothe's original 'He's Watching You' poster from 1942. The helmet of the soldier in that design is so visually prominent, it always made me think of Vader." Read the rest

TOM THE DANCING BUG: Super-Fun-Pak, with Tim Tripp, Time Traveller, and MORE!

RECOMMEND: Follow RUBEN BOLLING on the twitters. Read the rest

Headhunters and diplomats

This drawing was made on a file card by John Paton Davies, second secretary of the American embassy in Chungking, China, in 1943, just after Davies and 20 other men had parachuted from a floundering C-46 transport plane into a remote region of Burma (Myanmar).

It was part of Davies' attempt to communicate with the Naga, the native Burmese who found him and his compatriots after their plane crashed. The problem: None of the Americans spoke Naga. And the Naga spoke neither English, nor Chinese. Meanwhile, Davies and company were terrified of the Naga, who had a reputation for headhunting. Hilarity ensued.

Trying to determine where signs of western civilization might be, he sketched a locomotive with cars and uttered “choo-choo, chuff-chuff.” The response was “blank incomprehension.” Next he drew a Japanese flag and tried to vocalize the sound of battle. Again, there was no understanding. He also drew British and American flags and outposts in an effort to determine where his group might find assistance and rescue. Davies’ jots also included men parachuting from airplanes, perhaps his way of communicating to the Nagas how he and his men had arrived in their company.

The Nagas’ reaction to Davies’ written and oral efforts was impassive attention, but, significantly, not hostility. The Nagas led the men to their village, and the fear Davies felt when one of the tribesman made a cutting motion across his throat was relieved when the victim ended up being a goat that was sacrificed for a banquet.

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