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Oxford Jews and Enigma Code Breaking at Bletchley Park

Marcus Roberts

Some of Oxford's resident Jewish community provided an unusual contribution to the war effort. A number of Oxford Jews were recruited to work at the Bletchley Park Government Code and Cipher School, decrypting the Enigma code and helping produce intelligence codenamed 'Ultra'. For several, a back-ground in reading Hebrew and Hebrew studies and a knowledge of German proved the ideal preparation as far as the government recruiters were concerned.

The Loewe family made a strong contribution. Herbert Loewe who lived at 29 Beaumont Street and was a focus of Oxford Jewish society from c. 1920, when he returned from war service in India, to 1931, when he left for Cambridge. His brother, Lionel (1891-1987) and son Michael (b.1922), both went on to distinguish themselves as Enigma code-breakers and linguists, at Bletchley Park, during the Second World War.

Lionel worked on Enigma codes at Hut 3 at BP, mostly translating German, having previously worked in Intelligence in India and Ireland as well as having worked for SOE and running a small spy ring in Holland until 1940.

Michael had been reading classics at Oxford and was recruited to help in the war with Japan. He went on an intensive 6 month Japanese course at Bedford -- a course so tough at least two other students committed suicide due to the pressure. He worked in Hut 7 and then Block B at BP on Japanese naval decodes.

Nakdimon ('Nakky') Shabetai Doniach (1907 - 1994), was the son of Aaron Doniach, a Zionist, and a noted Arabic scholar at Oxford University, among other notable academic achievements. His mother Rahel Chaikin was a founder of WIZO. Nakdimon was recruited to BP after his studies at Wadham College and from the RAF. Thereafter he was involved with air intelligence and translation at BP. Afterwards he worked for GCHQ, and on retirement he moved to Oxford and was a teacher and editor of the Oxford University Press Dictionaries, especially in modern Hebrew and Arabic usages. He was made OBE in 1967 for scholarship and intelligence work.

Adapted from and with thanks to: (c) M. Sugarman, 'Breaking the Codes: Jewish personnel at Bletchley Park' (Jewish Historical Studies, Vol 40, 2005)

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