Grotjan anniversary photo abode of University Archives
Story by Ann Whitcher Gentzke | Photo analogy by Bob Wilder, BFA ’02
IT WAS SEPT. 20, 1940, a hot, adhesive day, and Genevieve Grotjan (BA ’36) was calmly analytical the enciphered belletrist beforehand out afore her on a apparent board table—as she had been accomplishing on a abreast circadian base for the accomplished year. The burden was apprenticed on associates of her baby U.S. Army Signal Intelligence Account (SIS) aggregation to break the Japanese blank accustomed as Purple. But Grotjan showed no apparent accent added than to occasionally blemish her head.
Her accord notwithstanding, Grotjan knew the stakes were high. As connected as Purple remained impervious to American codebreakers, the U.S. had about no admission to top-level Japanese adept belletrist broadcast by the country’s machine-generated cipher. As a result, American aggressive intelligence was acutely bedfast in advancing for the ascent Pacific conflict. So Grotjan apprenticed on, agilely allegory the broken argument and attractive for again sequences of letters. Despite the team’s abounding months of backbreaking work, the code’s abstruse remained frustratingly elusive. And then, at about 2 p.m., Grotjan spotted an apparent pattern.
Grabbing her worksheets, she rushed to the abutting allowance and told chief admiral she had commodity to appearance them. “We could see from her attitude that she charge accept apparent commodity extraordinary,” Frank Rowlett, the aloft algebraic abecedary who headed the Purple team, wrote in his memoir. Afterwards analytical her work, he exclaimed: “That’s it, that’s it! Gene has activate what we’re attractive for!” William Friedman, the allegorical cryptanalyst, came over to check, and angled with admiration and abatement at what he saw. As the accumulation erupted in cheers, Grotjan stood silently, her bliss mostly hidden as tears glistened abaft her rimless glasses. The ablaze 27-year-old mathematician, who’d abutting the Signal Intelligence Account alone the antecedent year, had aloof accomplished what Friedman predicted that day would “go bottomward as a anniversary in cryptologic history.”
Back one aperture closes…
ARRIVING IN WASHINGTON, D.C., in 1938 to activate assignment as a statistical agent at the Railroad Retirement Board, Grotjan could not accept advancing her celebrated role in American aggressive history a bald two years later.
She had accelerating from UB summa cum laude in February 1936 with a mathematics amount and hopes of landing a academy teaching position. But she couldn’t acquisition a academy accommodating to appoint her, so she accustomed a position at the Railroad Retirement Board artful pensions. Admitting it was assignment she enjoyed, she charge accept been admiring back her aerial account on a accepted algebraic analysis taken for a pay accession brought her to the absorption of Friedman, who headed the SIS (a advertiser of the Civic Aegis Agency). At the time, Friedman was alive architecture a band of accomplished codebreakers, abounding of them women, who bedevilled abnormal accuracy in algebraic and adopted languages. He additionally was on the anchor for those, like Grotjan, who had agog admiral of ascertainment and the backbone to break focused on acutely insurmountable tasks— generally mind-bendingly annoying in their execution.
Fragment of an aboriginal Japanese Purple blank apparatus recovered in 1945 from the accident of the Japanese admiral in Berlin. In 1940, the U.S. Signal Intelligence aggregation created a facsimile that bankrupt the Japanese code. Photo: Wikipedia Commons
Following her acknowledged algebraic test, Grotjan was offered a job in what was askance termed “the cipher section.” She said yes afterwards alive what the assignment basic (recruiters could not acknowledge the accurate attributes of the employment), and the government accustomed her alteration in 1939. She began as a inferior cryptanalyst and noncombatant employee, and it was as such that she fabricated her big beforehand in September 1940, back she somehow articular patterns in accidental sets of Roman-alphabet belletrist that accustomed them to be rearranged as Japanese words. Anon afterwards her discovery, Rowlett’s aggregation was able to assemble an analog Purple apparatus that bankrupt the Japanese code. The implications were huge.
“The band-aid of PURPLE reopened admission to Tokyo’s high-grade adept communications and decidedly bigger America’s acceding position in any exchanges with Britain,” explains David Alvarez in his book “Secret Messages: Codebreaking and American Diplomacy, 1930-1945.” The appulse was alike added affecting afterwards the U.S. entered the war in 1941. Information gleaned from Purple contributed to the American accomplishment at Midway in 1942, and Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, autograph in 1944, said convalescent abstruse Japanese intercepts contributed “tremendously to the extenuative of American lives, both in the conduct of accepted operations and in attractive appear the aboriginal abortion of the war.” (Because Purple appear adept belletrist and not aggressive plans, analytic it was not acceptable on its own to anticipate the beforehand on Pearl Harbor.)
But Grotjan beheld her role in the Purple beforehand and its after-effects with archetypal modesty. “Maybe I was aloof lucky,” she said in a 1991 account with historian David Kahn. “I was aflame and absorbed [and] attractive advanced to alive on the mechanism. I admired it added as aloof one footfall in a alternation of steps.” The bureau acutely acquainted otherwise. In 1941, she was answer aural the SIS, accustomed a $300 anniversary accession and assigned “exceptionally difficult” cryptographic and cryptanalytic responsibilities, according to a War Administration description of her new position.
Genevieve Grotjan (center) with Buffalo accompany Fay Griffin (left) and Pauline Miller. Photo abode of Civic Aegis Agency
An aboriginal bloomer
THERE WERE PLENTY OF CLUES in Grotjan’s aboriginal activity that she was apprenticed for distinction. Born in Buffalo in 1913, she was the alone adolescent of Frederick, a pharmacist whose parents had immigrated to the U.S. from Germany, and Lillian, a homemaker with assorted borough interests. By the time Grotjan was a green at Bennett Aerial Academy and alive with her ancestors on Tacoma Avenue, she was already cutting up ceremoniousness for her bookish performance. A photo of a serious-looking 14-year-old appeared in a 1927 Buffalo Evening Account account folio forth with four classmates who’d additionally denticulate top bookish honors; Grotjan placed aboriginal with a 97 average. Indeed, Grotjan’s name crops up again in account clippings of the aeon advertisement on Bennett’s arch students. She excelled not alone in algebraic but additionally in Latin and added subjects, and was called as the 1930 salutatorian. She delivered the salutatorian’s abode in the appropriate Latin and was one of three winners of the Jesse Ketchum Medal for bookish accomplishment at graduation contest that June.
Enrolling at UB in September 1930 with a Regents Scholarship, Grotjan connected to arise academically, admitting she sometimes took courses allotment time, conceivably for bread-and-butter reasons. A photo in the 1931 Iris anniversary shows her airish formally with added associates of the Pi Kappa Phi sorority. Despite her backwardness and reserve, she was alive in undergraduate organizations, acceptance at assorted times to the German, all-embracing relations and music clubs. On the bookish side, she took abundant credits in physics and education, but algebraic was acutely her forte. In 1934, she captured the William H. Sherk Memorial Award-winning “for the best cardboard submitted in any annex of mathematics, authentic or applied.” Her arrive cardboard explored the acutely mystifying affair of “Involutions in Pencils of Rays.” She additionally served as secretary of the campus mathematics club and in 1935 authored a address on club activities that was appear in The American Algebraic Monthly. Serving as a acceptable role archetypal was Harriet Montague, a UB algebraic abettor who was the club’s adviser and columnist of a accepted academy algebraic arbiter of the period.
For a year afterwards graduation, Grotjan formed as a acting abecedary and accomplished acceptance in algebraic and science in breadth schools. She was again assassin as a alum abettor in the UB algebraic department, area she accomplished trigonometry and analytic geometry while alive on her MA. She connected to widen her pedagogical and able network: In 1938, she lectured on algebraic equations and algebraic theories at a Buffalo feast of the Civic Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and she was adopted to accessory associates in Sigma Xi, the civic analysis account association for scientists and engineers. With all these factors affective an bookish career, it’s abstruse that she didn’t accomplishment her master’s apriorism at UB. The acumen may accept had to do with the black acknowledgment to her adventure for a academy teaching post, although she afterwards did alum assignment in Washington, D.C.
In any event, Grotjan would anon commence on her codebreaking career in Washington, area her bookish gifts, apprehensive personality and a birr of afterlife all came calm with advantageous after-effects for civic security. She additionally activate beatitude in her claimed life. She met Hyman I. Feinstein, a chemist at the Civic Bureau of Standards, and the brace affiliated in Washington in 1943. Feinstein, the son of Russian immigrants, grew up in Brooklyn and becoming his MA at Columbia. During their aboriginal alliance he was alive on the Manhattan Project; appropriately bedmate and wife were accompanying affected in clandestine projects that had to abide actually confidential, alike at home. “We didn’t apperceive abundant of what the added was doing,” Grotjan said of this era.
Four years afterwards her codebreaking accomplishment with Purple, Grotjan denticulate yet addition cryptanalytic accomplishment in November 1944 back she helped analyze Soviet cables beatific by agents of the KGB and the Soviet aggressive bureau accustomed as the GRU. Here, too, her adeptness to atom a accompaniment in the coded cartage helped beforehand what became accustomed as Venona—a clandestine activity accustomed to arrest Soviet espionage in the U.S. and added affiliated countries—that began in 1943 and connected until 1980. Venona’s decryption efforts ultimately uncloaked a host of KGB activities, including espionage aimed at the U.S. diminutive program.
Meanwhile, in 1946, Grotjan and her bedmate accustomed a son they called Ellis. That aforementioned year, Grotjan, by now Genevieve Grotjan Feinstein, accustomed the Exceptional Noncombatant Account Award from Brig. Gen. Paul Everton Peabody for her wartime service.
Grotjan accepting the Exceptional Noncombatant Account Award from Brig. Gen. Paul Everton Peabody in 1946. Photo: Civic Archives, RG 457
GROTJAN RESIGNED from her government position in 1947, and the capacity of her activity are somewhat dispersed afterwards that. We apperceive she accomplished algebraic at George Mason University, area her bedmate was a allure professor, from almost 1957 to 1961. And we apperceive that in 1969, her son, Ellis, again 22 and a contempo alum of Swarthmore Academy with a amount in mathematics, died tragically in the family’s alive allowance from a ahead undiagnosed cardiac problem. One can alone brainstorm Grotjan’s affliction at accident her alone child, who had poignantly followed in her footsteps. A photo in the 1968 Swarthmore anniversary shows an ardent adolescent man cutting horn-rimmed glasses—the explanation indicates his cachet as an ceremoniousness algebraic student. Forth with three added Swarthmore seniors, Ellis was awarded a Civic Science Foundation acquaintance for alum study. He was slated to appear MIT, although annal announce he was at Yale in the abatement of 1968.
Somehow the brace soldiered on afterwards Ellis’ death, activity about their accepted activities from their home in Fairfax, Va., until Hyman Feinstein’s afterlife in 1995 (before which he accustomed the Genevieve Feinstein Award in Cryptography aural the GMU algebraic department; the award-winning continues to be awarded today to an outstanding undergraduate mathematics major). Joan Craun, a next-door acquaintance from 1962 to 1975, now alive in Manassas, Va., remembers anniversary dinners spent with the agilely able brace in their abode abounding with books. Afterwards Ellis died, Craun recalls, Grotjan enjoyed watching Craun’s accouchement comedy outside; she afterwards gave her piano to Craun’s daughter. With the in-home affliction her bedmate had set up afore his death, Grotjan was able to abide at the ancestors home until her own afterlife in 2006 at age 93. Meanwhile, the brace had set up a bequeathal in their son’s name, and in 2007, George Mason appear what was its distinct better banknote allowance from a aloft adroitness member—$1 actor from Grotjan’s acreage to authorize a scholarship award in Ellis’ name.
Grotjan and her husband, Hyman Feinstein (above), enjoyed dinners with neighbors and accompany in Fairfax, Va (inset, beneath right). Photos abode of Joan Craun
In 2011, Grotjan was posthumously inducted into the Civic Aegis Agency’s Cryptologic Hall of Honor. Sadly, she died afterwards a alive brood and the NSA could not locate a about to appear the ceremony. “We concluded up agreeable a affiliate of the [GMU] algebraic department,” says NSA historian David Hatch. Of the appearing adjournment in affording her this recognition, Hatch says the action is time-consuming, “with a acreage of about 65 anniversary nominations from which alone a few inductees are called from amid abounding accompanying fields—not aloof codebreakers, but linguists, engineers, computer specialists and a host of added skills.”
While it may accept taken abounding years for this civic account to be conveyed, Grotjan’s abode in the pantheon of wartime cryptanalysts has been furthered by mentions in two contempo books: Liza Mundy’s “Code Girls,” about the unsung World War II codebreakers in the U.S. Army and Navy; and Jason Fagone’s “The Woman Who Smashed Codes,” about Elizebeth Friedman, wife of William Friedman and a admirable cryptanalyst in her own right.
Yet alike as acceptance increases for the estimated 10,000 changeable codebreakers who served during World War II, postwar references are all too bare with attention to Grotjan, a accurate brilliant of this field. Indeed, the allusive obscurity of her afterwards activity may be partially attributable to longstanding clandestineness rules barring aloft codebreakers from discussing their wartime work. And, too, her accustomed reticence accumulated with the draft of her son’s afterlife may accept pushed Grotjan into an more clandestine existence.
But alike with a bound adventures available, we can accretion important acquaint from Grotjan’s activity about what she and added changeable codebreakers gave to their country, and how their adventures are accordant to adolescent women today. For her part, Liza Mundy of “Code Girls” describes the allowances to association back women are advised appropriately and their abounding abeyant unleashed. “World War II is a admonition that, back abandon afraid in the balance, admittance larboard us safe,” Mundy asserts in a contempo New York Times commodity advancement World War II’s changeable codebreakers.
In 2017, Highlights portrayed Grotjan’s codebreaking achievements for adolescent readers. Photo: Copyright © Highlights for Children, Inc., Columbus, Ohio
In addition assurance of Grotjan’s connected relevance, Highlights, the 72-year-old annual for children, focused on Grotjan in 2017 with a bright commodity that bankrupt bottomward her Purple accomplishment for adolescent readers, zeroing in on the cardinal moment back “she acicular out how some symbols stood at a assertive breach from one another” to the three men continuing adjacent who bound exulted in her discovery. It’s acceptable to anticipate that beginning mathematicians, account about Grotjan’s celebrated breakthrough, may seek to challenge the shy, animated apprentice from Buffalo who accepted acquirements at every turn.
…………………….Ann Whitcher Gentzke is the aloft editor of At Buffalo and is now, amid added post-retirement activities, freelance autograph and editing.
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