The Holocaust Historiography Project

Chapter 3: Sources of Cryptologic Records Relating to the Holocaust

There are two major locations of cryptologic records of interest concerning the Holocaust, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in the United States and the Public Record Office (PRO) in the United Kingdom. (Since April 2003 the Public Record Office has been renamed. It is now the National Archives.) The record collections in both archives reflect the unique approaches to records management and disposition taken by both countries. In addition to the national archives of both countries, the library of the National Cryptologic Museum also contains partial sets of certain PRO holdings in which there occur occasional references to the Holocaust.

The National Archives and Records Administration

The cryptologic records at NARA in College Park, Maryland, that contain information pertinent to the Holocaust are located in Record Group (RG) 457, the records of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS), and the RG 226, the records of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Another major cryptologic collection, the Commander Naval Security Group series in RG 38, the records of the Chief of Naval Operations, most likely does not contain any relevant material except for duplicates of that found in RG 457. Also, while it is logical for World War II cryptologic records to be in RG 457 — the NSA is the most recent successor to the wartime SIS — the presence of such material in the OSS records group will require an explanation that will be given below. The relatively recent discovery (2000) of relevant cryptologic records in the OSS group, which was part of the records review process conducted under the auspices of the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Records Interagency Working Group, is symptomatic of the peculiar and sometimes unpredictable nature of the intelligence exchange process during World War II. The implication of this discovery is that there may be more such records located in records groups hitherto considered unrelated to communications intelligence operations.

There are five collections of records in RG 457 that hold material relevant to the Holocaust. The first one is the collection of German Police (GP) decrypts (these messages are referred to as decrypts and not translations because the text is in the original German) and technical reports about the police ciphers. The decrypts are located in Box 1386 in the Historical Cryptographic Collection (HCC), which is also referenced as Entry 9032. The NSA collection of police and SS decrypts is only a small portion — the exact percentage is unknown — of the much larger PRO collection located in HW 16 (See PRO section). These German Police decrypts were transferred to NARA as part of a January 1996 NSA release of 1.3 million pages of previously classified World War II records. In Great Britain, the German Police and SS messages were released to the public in 1997 when the British Public Record Office made these available in early May of that year.

These police decrypts first came to the NSA because of the postwar search for Nazi war criminals. The decrypts originally were not part of any wartime exchange; these messages were intercepted and decrypted well before the BRUSA exchange agreement of mid-1943. They arrived in the U.S. as a result of a 1982 request by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI), relayed through the National Security Agency to the British SIGINT organization, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The OSI was reviewing files of individuals suspected of being war criminals who may have entered the United States after the war. It was believed that the decrypts might help in the investigations since they contained much information on the personnel, organization, and operations of the German Police and SS units that operated in the western Soviet Union during the war.

There are four other boxes in the HCC that hold technical information about the German Police ciphers and organization. In Box 202 there is a folder, “Study of German Police Traffic,” that contains technical reports on the cipher system used by the German Police. There is an instructional guide on the system and some sample undecrypted and decrypted police messages. Another Box, 171, in the HCC contains a glossary titled “German Police Abbreviations.” This document is useful when reading the decrypts since the address portion of police and SS messages contain numerous abbreviations, in German, of SS and Police title and organizations. Similarly, the texts of many police messages contain German language abbreviations and shorthand references to units and activities. In Box 91 of the HCC, there is a copy of volume XIII of the GC&CS Air and Military History series about the German Police. Finally, Box 1279 in the HCC contains a folder titled “German Police Material” that holds some additional technical publications on the German Police, the SS, and SD. These are mostly short U.S. War Department and British reports on the organization, ciphers, and activities in Russia. There are also many reports on Abwehr illicit agent radio nets and organization of overseas espionage rings.

The second collection of records is known as the Multinational Diplomatic Translations and is located in boxes 286 to 516 of the Historical Cryptographic Collection, in RG 457. This collection consists of individual translations of diplomatic communications issued or received by the Army cryptologic organization at Arlington Hall. There are over 202,000 individual translations in this set that total a little under a quarter million pages. The collection extends from early 1939 and runs to the 14 August 1945 Japanese acceptance of the Allied surrender demands.

The diplomatic communications of virtually all countries of significance were targeted and collected during the war. Included in this mix were the major Axis powers, minor Axis allies, minor Allied nations, Allied governments-in-exile, neutral nations, and some nongovernmental organizations (NGO) such as the Jewish Agency for Palestine and the International Red Cross. The latter sent their messages via commercial cable or used the diplomatic communications facilities of certain countries, such as Switzerland. The proportion of intercepted messages from individual countries reflected the wartime priorities of the Allied commands and the technical capabilities of the Allied cryptologic agencies. Japan was the priority diplomatic COMINT target, and the translations of its messages account for as much as 54 percent of the total translations in this collection. The translations of intercepted German, Swiss, French (Vichy and Gaullist), and other nations' diplomatic messages account for much smaller percentages of the total translation collection.

The translations of German diplomatic messages would be of particular interest to those interested in the Holocaust. These translations, though, consist mostly of consular traffic, press releases by German news services, and traffic from embassies located in countries of less importance to Germany such as Afghanistan, Argentina, and the Republic of Ireland. This diplomatic radio traffic was encoded using a codebook and then further enciphered with an additive phrase. This system was a code named FLORADORA by the Allies and was partly exploitable beginning in 1943. German high-level diplomatic communications to embassies located in countries important to Germany such as Japan, Spain, and Switzerland, etc., were encrypted in a one-time pad (OTP) that, for most of the war, resisted the efforts by both American and British cryptanalysts. However, in March 1945, this system succumbed to American codebreakers at Arlington Hall.1

It should be mentioned here that, when it comes to the national diplomatic translations, there is some overlap among other entries within RG 457. This is because in the early to mid-1980s, NSA separately released Japanese, German, and Vichy French diplomatic translations.2 Certain technical information was sanitized from these early releases. The original versions of the translations remained at NSA until their release in 1996 as part of the aforementioned Historical Cryptographic Collection. The diplomatic translations in the HCC appear in a number of forms. It can be either an original version of the translation or, if the original paper version has been lost or put on microfilm, a copy of the original. During the war, the translations were typed on stencils, and then numerous blue ditto copies were run off and distributed. The HCC set of translations contains both ditto pages and xeroxed copies of these sheets.

The third relevant collection is known as the Multinational Diplomatic Summaries. This collection is not to be confused with the so-called “Magic” Summaries that were digests of diplomatic messages from other countries, but mostly Japan, and included with intelligence from other sources. The “Magic” Summaries were issued by the Special Branch of the U.S Army’s Military Intelligence Service (MIS) of the War Department’s General Staff. The summaries under discussion here actually were a compilation on one or more pages containing a number of shorter translations from a single diplomatic target, for example, Spain. Why this approach was taken, instead of issuing a single translation for individual messages, is not fully understood. These summaries contain some fairly long texts and occasionally have items of high interest. Arlington Hall issued four sets of these summaries: In addition to the multinational set, there were ones for the Japanese, German, and French (which included Vichy) diplomatic messages. They are notated as follows: SMM — Summary of Multinational Messages; SFM — Summary of French Messages; SGM — Summary of German Messages; and SJM — Summary of Japanese Messages. These Summaries are scattered throughout the Historical Cryptographic Collection. Most can be found from boxes 881 to 902, 933-4, 948, and 1281.

The fourth collection is what is popularly referred to as the “Nazi Gold” translations and can be found in Entry 9009 of RG 457. This collection of translations is of Swiss diplomatic messages between Washington and Bern from August 1945 to June 1946. Of the total of 371 translations, about 170 are related to the Allied Tripartite Commission — Swiss negotiations in Washington, DC, on the issue of the disposition of looted national gold from European countries overrun by the Germans and German assets retained in Swiss banks and corporations. The negotiations lasted from March to June 1946 and produced the Washington Accord. These translations were released in the spring of 1997 as part of the 1997 interagency Preliminary Report on U.S. and Allied Efforts to Recover and Restore Stolen Gold and Other Assets Stolen or Hidden by Germany During World War II. More details on this topic can be found in Section VI.E.

The fifth collection resides in the Historic Cryptologic Collection in boxes 517 to 521. This set of translations is entitled “Decrypted Diplomatic Traffic (Primarily German and Japanese) from World War II,” and is referred by its short title, the “T-series.” Originally, this collection was meant to contain translations from sensitive or restricted diplomatic sources. When it was started in 1943, the collection consisted of translations of Axis diplomatic messages that detailed espionage activities originating in the Japanese embassy in Madrid and the German embassies in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Dublin, Republic of Ireland. Later, with the expanded American exchange with the British, government agencies contributed more translations to this series from other sources considered “sensitive."3 These included messages from the Vatican to its apostolic delegates, radio and cable traffic of the French Committee for National Liberation, Polish and Czech intelligence reports from occupied Europe, and selections from the so-called Boston source, the OSS source inside the German Foreign Office.

Boston was the cover name given to documents from the German Foreign Office (Auswaertiges Amt) taken or copied by a mid-level official, Fritz Kolbe, who passed them to the OSS station chief in Switzerland, Allen Dulles. Kolbe, assigned the covername “George Wood” by the OSS, passed these documents to the OSS from 1943 through 1945. The Allies found these documents of great interest. Some of the documents, mostly Foreign Office messages, were translated and then incorporated by the SIS into the “T-series.” Some of the messages were from the German embassy in Bern, Switzerland, and concerned issues such as Swiss-German trade, currency negotiations, and transit permissions for supply trains from Italy. A few were from the German mission in Hungary that was in charge of rounding up the Jews in Hungary and sending them to Auschwitz. (See Chapter 6.) Although not strictly communications intercepts, the messages acquired from Kolbe were included in the translations of the T-series.4

Another group of translations of interest in the T-series consists of messages between the Vatican and its apostolic delegates stationed in several countries. The British had intercepted and decrypted Vatican diplomatic messages from before the war. The messages that could be exploited were largely administrative and were of little intelligence interest to the Allies. Beginning in late 1944, though, there were a number of intercepted Vatican messages dealing with the relief of refugees and prisoners of war (mostly Axis), as well as Vatican intercession for the release of high-profile Catholics and other internees held by Germany in various concentration and detention camps. In several messages, the Vatican urged its delegate in Germany to intervene on the behalf of prisoners, among whom were French politicians held in Germany since 1940, individuals such as a Signora Navet and her daughter held in Ravensbruck, and the royal family of Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, which was rumored to have been transported to Germany.5 There are about seventy-five Vatican translations in this series.6

All of the above-mentioned records, decrypts and translations, are categorized as “basic” intelligence documents, that is, primary product from the intercepted original. Another set of records in RG 457, located in the Entry ‘"Magic” Diplomatic Summaries' (a portion are carried also in Entry 9006), has been a popular source of research for scholars since their release in the early 1990s. However, the “Magic” Summaries, produced by Special Branch, are digests of the much greater body of translations, and do not offer anywhere near the detailed information available in the latter. The information is summarized under five major categories: (1) military, (2) political, (3) economic, (4) psychological and subversion (mainly items on propaganda, nationalist agitation, and resistance movements), and (5) miscellaneous (for example, outbreaks of epidemics).

The “Magic” Summaries were a major method of disseminating selected information from the translations of intercepted Axis and neutral communications, as well from other intelligence sources such as press, foreign radio broadcasts, prisoner of war debriefs, U.S. diplomatic reports, and traditional espionage. The COMINT easily is the largest single source of information in the Summaries. The Summaries often contain an appreciation of the information by the Special Branch analysts. The “Magic” Summaries are much less important as a research tool about the Holocaust. The only incident covered with any depth is the roundup of the Jews in Hungary during the latter part of 1944. A survey of the summaries reveals only about twenty entries of various degrees of details on subjects related to the Holocaust; this is out of a total of around 11,000 entries in the entire wartime Summary series. These few entries also are only a fraction of the many hundreds of translations available in RG 457 that reference the Holocaust. (See Chapter 2, pages 45-47, for more on the role of the “Magic” Diplomatic Summaries.)

In Record Group 226, the records of the Office of Strategic Services, there are located some translations of intercepts produced by the British GC&CS during the war. These translations were discovered in mid-2000 as part of a review of wartime OSS records under the provisions of the 1999 Nazi War Crimes Act. The appearance of these COMINT translations in OSS records initially surprised researchers. A directive from President Franklin Roosevelt signed in July 1942 had ruled against the Service performing cryptologic functions, specifically code- breaking. Only the Army, Navy, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and United States Coast Guard could produce communications intelligence. The directive had been meant to prevent government agencies, other than the SIS, OP-20-G and the FBI, from performing cryptanalysis. Somehow, the Army and Navy construed the order to mean that these other agencies were to be denied access to all COMINT information, as well.7 The result was that government agencies such as the OSS, the Federal Communications Commission, and Office of Wartime Information were denied access to American-produced communications intelligence.

However, the explanation for the appearance of such records in the OSS files was quite simple. By early 1943, the OSS had been allowed to send a staff to join the counterintelligence group of British Secret Intelligence Service, known as M.I.6, Section V. The Radio Security Service (RSS) was the principal interceptor of radio traffic sent by Axis illicit agents and security and intelligence organizations. All decrypts of topical interest to counterintelligence, which included Axis espionage, intelligence, and security activities, were sent to this site. By March 1943, OSS counterintelligence (X-2) personnel had joined their British counterparts and were soon sharing all such decrypts.8 Most of the decrypts, and some translations, were strictly espionage or security related. Amongst these translations and decrypts were those of the SS, the SD and German Police. These latter groups, while they performed counterespionage operations and criminal investigations, were charged with eliminating Jews and other groups targeted by the Nazis.

Of particular interest to historians are the translations of messages concerning the roundup of the Jews in Rome during October 1943. These translations include messages from Police Leader Karl Wolff, who had arrived in Rome to oversee the situation; Herbert Kappler, the German Police attaché in Rome; and Ernst Kaltenbrunner, SS General and head of the Reich Security Office (RSHA) that included the SD. Whether any of these translations reached the OSS reporting element, the Research and Analysis Branch, is not currently known. In all likelihood, the British may have restricted the X-2 organization in regards to what other branches of the OSS could have shared the German decrypts. The SD translations can be found in RG 226, Entry 122, boxes 1 and 2.9

The OSS also benefited from another exchange arrangement with M.I.6 that started early in America’s involvement in the war. Beginning in March 1942, the OSS (and its predecessor, the Central Office of Information) received, via the British Security Coordination (BSC) element in New York City under Sir William Stephenson, copies of so-called “Q” material, or copies of intercepted diplomatic messages, most likely, again, to have come from M.I.6. Interestingly, this material predates the formal exchange program of 1943 between the American and British cryptologic agencies. It is not always clear what the source (or sources) of the translations may have been. Some may have been received from postal and cable censorship offices. It also appears that many of these diplomatic messages may have been purloined from diplomatic pouches or couriers. Almost all of the translations are marked with the caveat “Most Secret Source,” which was a standard British reference to intelligence derived from high-level cryptanalytic processes.

Many of the translations in the OSS files consist of excerpts from the original diplomatic messages. Also, most of these translations are of messages from lower level diplomats, attachés, or consular officials of neutral countries or Axis friendly regimes like Vichy France. The contents of the majority of translations are about internal conditions in Europe. Some of the translations contain references to the situation of Jews in various countries, but these are not common. The “Q” series can be found in Entry 210, boxes 400, 402, 403, 405, 408, 412, and 415.10

The Public Record Office

The central collection of cryptologic records of the Government Communications Headquarters, as the GC&CS has been known since after World War II, is located at the Public Record Office, Kew, United Kingdom (in Southwest London). The records include material dating from 1914 to 1946. British PRO record grouping designations differ from the NARA record group system. The British use the term “Class List” instead of Record Group to specify the records of a single ministry, agency, or commission. The Class List is followed by a numerical designator, one or two digits that specifies a collection of related records. This is followed by another set of digits called a “piece” or “folder” that refers to a specific record, which could be a single document or set of documents. Within “HW” are 49 series, each an individually titled collection of records, usually representing types of correspondence and records of singular COMINT targets or functions, such as intercept activity or administration.

However, for purposes of searching and locating records, the PRO/National Archives catalogue uses a different set of descriptors for the locations of the folders/pieces. This system is used by the on-line search engine called the PROCAT. Consider for example, the reference HW 16/46. This would consist of the Class List HW 16, German Police Decrypts, with a piece or folder 46, “Illustrations of war crimes from the GPD.” For a researcher, the catalogue divides this reference in the following manner: “HW” is called the Department; the two-digit designator “16,” or German Police Decrypts, is the series; while the two-digit group to the right of the dividing slant, “46,” is known as the “sub-series” that consists of a group of related “pieces” within a series.11

The GC&CS records are, for a number of reasons, more extensive in time and scope than those of the American cryptologic agencies held in RG 457 at NARA. For one thing, British cryptology was engaged in intercepting communications in Europe even before hostilities began in 1939. The British had intercept facilities in the British Isles and imperial and mandated holdings in and around Europe, such as Gibraltar, Egypt, and Palestine. From these sites, the British intercept organizations, such as the Radio Security Service, as well as numerous military monitoring facilities, could collect, analyze, and distribute reports based on the communications of the Axis and neutral nations. Also of particular value was the British censorship office that obtained copies of selected letters posted overseas as well as all cable traffic moving through London and other overseas British or Commonwealth controlled cable terminals. This collection effort included message traffic of the Allied governments-in-exile based in London, and the missions of all the neutral countries.

In the GC&CS records, information about the Holocaust have been found in the following Class Lists:
HW 1 — GC&CS Signals Intelligence Passed to the Prime Minister, Messages and Correspondence.
HW 12 — GC&CS Diplomatic Section and Predecessors: Decrypts of Intercepted Diplomatic Communications (BJ Series).
HW 14 — GC&CS: Directorate: Second World War Policy Papers.
HW 15 — GC&CS and GCHQ: Venona Project: Record
HW 16 — GC&CS: German Police Section: Decrypts of German Police Communications during [the] Second World War.
HW 19 — GC&CS: ISOS and ISK Sections: Decrypts of German Secret Service (Abwehr and Sicherheitdienst) Messages (ISOS, ISK, and other Series).
HW 29 — GC&CS: untitled “Commercial Reports,” January 1938 -December 1945.

HW 1 is the collection of GC&CS signals intelligence materials that was passed to the prime minister. It consisted of the intelligence material selected (and often briefed) by the head of M.I.6, Sir Stewart Menzies (known as “C"), whose service administratively controlled Bletchley Park. Normally, this material was presented to the prime minister daily, sometimes even twice a day; but it was not uncommon for Churchill to demand more. The intelligence consisted mainly of Enigma decrypts, Axis and neutral naval intelligence, and diplomatic translations of interest (known as “BJ's” for “blue-jackets,” or “Black Jumbos"). There are 3,785 folders or pieces of material in the briefing files of the prime minister. For the most part, there is no general content title list for a particular volume, so the files have to be reviewed individually. For example, the piece HW1/62, is listed with the title “no description available,” but it is from September 1941, when the P.M. was informed of German Police massacres on the Eastern front.12 HW 1’s contents illustrate Churchill’s voracious appetite for all levels and kinds of intelligence: strategic, tactical, military, diplomatic, security, and scientific. After late 1941, the prime minister continued to receive occasional intelligence on the Holocaust.

Perhaps the most pertinent class list, HW 16, is the German Police decrypts. This collection constitutes the most complete set of existing police decrypts. Within this department there are four pieces or series, 16/44 to 16/47, which are titled, “GP (German Police) War Atrocities — Executions in Russia.” The first, 16/44, contains miscellaneous notes and working aids to the police decrypts, such as order of battle, names of the police units' commanding officers, breakouts of the police and SS radio callsigns, and of the abbreviations to the addresses of the decrypts. This series closely follows the contents of those in boxes 1386 and 202 of the HCC in the NARA RG 457 and probably was the source for the latter. The next three series contain a number of decrypts that illustrate the scope and nature of the executions carried out by the police units, especially in the central and southern fronts of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

HW 16/10 contains the German Police Concentration Camp (GPCC) monthly reports of the inmate totals for a number of camps. These totals include arrivals, losses, and various nationalities and groups, including Jews. These reports did not carry information about those who arrived in the trains and were immediately murdered in the gas chambers. Instead, these reports list the inmate, or slave labor population totals. As transmitted by the Germans, these were formatted messages, known as “proforma” reports, that is, the intercepted text was a series of numbers preceded by a columnar indicator. The sending and receiving police or SS organizations understood the meaning of the columns and the figures. The Bletchley Park analysts recovered the meanings for the various columns of figures in the reports. The camps did not all send the same categories of figures in these reports. For example, Auschwitz (identified as “F” in radio traffic) would send population totals for the beginning and end of the day. Buchenwald (identified as “D") sent only a single daily total.13 A number of other files in this series contain messages from concentration camps, notably HW16/17 to HW 16/26. (See Section 5.A, pages 78-80, for more on these reports from the slave labor camps, as well as the recent discovery of an intercepted report on death totals from selected death camps in Poland for 1942.)

Another relevant series is HW 19, the records of the section in GC&CS that was responsible for decrypting messages of the Abwehr, German military intelligence, and Sicherheitsdienst, or intelligence arm of the SS.14 Messages from Abwehr agents and foreign reporting centers that were encrypted using manual systems (paper codes and ciphers) were called ISOS, Intelligence (or Illicit) Source Oliver Strachey. The decrypts of Abwehr messages encrypted with an Enigma device were known as ISK, or Intelligence Source Knox for A. Dillwyn Knox. Strachey and Knox were senior leaders in GC&CS. Both were veterans of the Admiralty’s famous World War I code-breaking operation known as Room 40, whose most famous exploit was the decoding of the Zimmermann Telegram in 1917. A third subseries within HW 19 is composed of SD messages known as ISOCICLE (breakout unknown) that were encrypted with SD manual ciphers.

Messages relating to all aspects of the Holocaust are sprinkled throughout this series. For example, series HW 19/237 contains SD reports on the situation in Italy after its surrender to the Allies. There are as many as 1,500 messages in this subseries. Some of the messages report the roundup of the Jews in Rome in October 1943. Others detail the transfer of Albanian gold, probably seized originally by Fascist Italy when it occupied Albania in 1939, to Berlin and the attitude of the Vatican to events in and around Rome. Other subseries containing information on Jews in Italy can be found in sub-series HW 19/238 to HW 19/240. Another sub-series, HW 19/236, deals largely with events in Bulgaria. Of the nearly 2,000 decrypts in this sub-series are some reports about the expulsion of non-Bulgarian Jews, emigration of Jews to Palestine through Bulgaria, messages about Finnish Jews, and the Jewish population in North Africa.

HW 29, the “Commercial Reports,” contains translations of commercial code messages intercepted by the British during the war. Commercial codes were designed primarily to decrease transmission time and message length by reducing standard business expressions and statistical entries in business correspondence to a series of short code groups. Shorter messages meant cheaper communications costs. Commercial codes were available to the public and therefore did not provide security for the contents of business correspondence. Businesses and financial institutions, such as banks and insurance companies, could produce customized versions of the standard commercial codes for security and privacy purposes, but this was not done often probably due to the cost of designing custom code variants and printing sufficient copies for all recipients.

There are 321 folders containing 61,188 translations of commercial messages in HW 29. They run from January 1938 to December 1945. They are labeled with the prefix “CS,” which probably stood for “commercial series.” There are a number of messages from the Reichsbank in this collection. Some messages deal with credit transactions for overseas official German diplomatic and military representatives such as consuls and attachés. However, there are some Reichsbank cables and messages that are part of gold sales and purchases, currency exchanges, and trade activity with neutral countries such as Switzerland.

There are two other Class Lists that contain commercial reports. One is HW 31, “Commercial messages sent in privacy company codes.” This list contains some 2,770 reports that run from June 1943 to August 1945. These reports carry the prefix “PRI.” The other Class list is HW 32, “Commercial Messages passed over diplomatic channels.” This list spans March 1942 to June 1945. There are 32,471 translations in this list and are prefixed by “COM.” It is not known currently if these last two commercial Class Lists carry any information about the disposal of funds, gold, or property looted by the Nazis.

A number of other HW series house collections of diplomatic decrypts and translations produced by GC&CS, dating from 1919 to 1945. While there are a number of relevant translations, it is not certain how many pertain to the Holocaust. One series, HW12, contains translations of diplomatic messages from 1919 to 1945. Since 1997, the British have been slowly releasing the body of wartime diplomatic translations. This turnover to the PRO was completed in early June of 2003.

The diplomatic translations are arranged in monthly files for a single year and then further subdivided alphabetically by country. The largest portion of the collection consists of translations from all European countries leading up to and including the end of the war. Many of the intercepted messages were of the governments-in-exile of the minor allied nations that resided in Great Britain. GC&CS also intercepted messages from many countries in the Middle East, such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Of peculiar interest is the GC&CS continued to intercept diplomatic messages from the United States up to early 1942.15 From September 1939 to September 1945, GC&CS produced more than 74,000 translations of intercepted diplomatic messages.

Two other series contain diplomatic translations that might pertain to the Holocaust. They are HW 36, “Reports of German Diplomatic Messages” (1942-1943), and HW 37, “Diplomatic Decrypts Passed to the Secret Intelligence Service for Distribution” (1935-1945).

One final Class List deserves mention and that is HW 13, “GC&CS: Signals Intelligence, World War 2.” This collection is composed of summary reports published by GC&CS. Of interest are pieces HW 13/118 to 13/124 (26 July 1941 — 6 April 1945) that are titled “Reports on Railway Movements based on German Army and Air Force High-grade Traffic."16 During the war, GC&CS was able to exploit the so-called German railway Enigma, known as “Rocket,” and then later as “Blunderbuss” and “Culverin.” The railway Enigma was exploited beginning in February 1941. The decrypts initially were processed and reported by GC&CS. But its efforts were hampered by the esoteric format and text of the messages. An element of the British Ministry of Economic Warfare (MEW), the Railway Research Service, soon complemented the Bletchley work. The information from these messages was about German military logistics shipments. They proved to be useful in determining future German strategic and theater military initiatives.17

Since the Nazis made use of the railway system of Germany (and later that of occupied Europe) to transport Jews to the death camps, it would seem that there should be much information in these summaries. However, it is not clear from the limited research conducted of these files if they contain any such information. To date, messages about trains transporting Jews to the camps have been found only in HW 16, the decrypts of German Police messages.18

Miscellaneous Collections

There are other collections of cryptologic records that have a few translations among them that apply to the Holocaust. These records include the intercepts and translations of clandestine communications from European communist party organizations and resistance groups to Moscow (known as ISCOT, or Intelligence Source Scot), the Communist International (MASK), and Soviet intelligence organizations (Venona). These collections are available in whole at the Public Record Office/National Archives or in part at the United States National Archives and the library of the National Cryptologic Museum at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland.

The Venona translations probably are the most famous of the three collections. These are the translations of messages between various Soviet intelligence network controls, or “rezidants,” and the Moscow headquarters of Soviet intelligence agencies — the NKVD (Narodniy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del, “Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs") and the GRU (Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoe Upravleniye, “Main Intelligence Direcorate” of the Soviet General Staff). There are only two translations in the over three thousand that refer to any aspects of the Holocaust. These include the movement of German gold into Swiss banks and a discussion of the Wallenberg family.19 The Venona translations are available in RG 457 at NARA in College Park, Maryland, the PRO (HW 15), and at the library of the National Cryptologic Museum.20

The ISCOT material, named after the head of the section at the GC&CS that handled illicit communications, is a collection of translations of messages between the various European (and Asian) communist party organizations and resistance groups and party headquarters in Moscow during World War II. These messages were intercepted, decrypted, and translated by the GC&CS and turned over to the responsible section in M.I.6. They date from mid-1944 to the end of the war. Of the nearly 1,500 translations, only six pertain to the Holocaust. The ISCOT translations are located at the PRO in series HW 17, pieces 39-118, Government Code & Cypher School Decrypts of the Communist International (COMINTERN). A set of the ISCOT translations also is available in the library of the National Cryptologic Museum.

Finally, there is the so-called MASK material collection, which consists of intercepts of COMINTERN material decrypted by the famous British cryptanalyst, Brigadier J.H. Tiltman, from 1934 to 1937. The Communist International was the administrative conduit through which foreign communist parties were controlled and financed by Moscow. The messages in the collection are from the International’s headquarters in Moscow to various local communist party organizations in several European countries, the United States, and China. The reports are mostly what one would expect: espionage and illegal tradecraft, party and network finances, propaganda, travel plans of COMINTERN agents, and messages about domestic political, military, and economic situations. There are several messages that report on conditions in Germany after Hitler’s accession to power and the situation in Austria prior to the Anschluss of 1938. Although there is no direct information about anti-Jewish measures, there are references to the concentration camps that, in those early years of the Nazi reign, held a large number of opposition political inmates such as communists, social democrats, and others. The MASK translations (and decrypts in French) are located in folders 1 to 38 of HW 17.21 The National Cryptologic Museum’s library also has a set of the MASK translations.

Even though there are number of translations relating to the Holocaust from the above three smaller collections, they represent only a small portion of the actual number of messages transmitted on these illicit radio networks. It is possible that the archives of former Soviet intelligence organizations and the COMINTERN may contain a number of messages concerning all aspects of the Holocaust and other Nazi depredations.


  1. For more on the Allied effort against German diplomatic systems, see Alvarez, 164-6.
  2. These are: Entry 9011, Japanese Diplomatic Messages (SRDJ) and Japanese-German Diplomatic Messages (SRDG); and Entry 9021, Vichy French Diplomatic Messages (SRDV).
  3. The British placed restrictions on “sensitive” material that the Special Branch representatives attached to GC&CS work centers could see and pass back to G-2 in Washington. This material was referred to as the “Reserved Series.” See “History of Special Branch,” 21 fn., NARA RG 457, Entry 9032, Box 1113.
  4. A complete set of the Boston series can be found in the records of the Office of Strategic Services, RG 226, Entry 210, boxes 440-446. Other captured Axis messages were placed in similar relevant translation series. For example, Japanese messages, captured during the Philippines campaign, were placed in the appropriate Japanese military (SR) and air force (SRF) translation series available in RG 457, entries 9005 and 9012, respectively.
  5. Vatican to Berlin, 11 October 1944, T-1124, NARA, RG 457, HCC, Box 518, “Decrypted Diplomatic Traffic;” Vatican (Montini) to Apostolic delegate to Germany (Eichstatt), 8 May 1945, T-1996, NARA, RG 457, HCC, Box 519, “Decrypted Diplomatic Traffic"; Vatican City (Montini) to Apostolic Delegate to Germany (Eichstatt), 7 April 1945, T-2056, NARA, RG 457, HCC, Box 519.
  6. Information regarding the British and American cryptanalytic effort against Vatican codes and ciphers can be found in RG 457, HCC, Box 1284, “History of the Solution of Vatican Systems in SSA and GCCS, 1943-44.” (Washington: September 1944)
  7. Benson, A History of Communications Intelligence 54-5. Along with the OSS, the Federal Communications Commission and the Office of Censorship, both of which were conducting small-scale intercept and cryptanalysis, were barred from further cryptologic work. The Coast Guard’s intercept and code- breaking sections were absorbed into the Navy’s cryptologic effort and designated as OP-20-GU.
  8. Bradley F. Smith, The Ultra-Magic Deals, 149.
  9. This set is only part of the larger collection contained in the PRO. The distribution list of British officials who received the translations from this period named eight individuals and their departments — four from M.I.6, one from M.I.5, and one each for the Directors of Intelligence for the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
  10. Other translations that were distributed through OSS and passed on to other U.S. government elements, such as the U.S. Department of State, carried the caveats “Secret Source,” or “A Most Reliable Source.” These distributed versions usually had certain pieces of source information, such as the name of the official under whose signature the message was sent and the date of the message, removed or “sanitized” from the original version. Interestingly, it appears that none of these diplomatic translations were shared with the SIS. Also, these translations, for the most part, are from minor neutrals and even some cables from diplomats that contain mostly personal information. A useful discussion about one particularly important translation of a Chilean diplomatic message concerning the situation of Jews in Prague in November 1941 can be found in the Richard Breitman monograph “What Chilean Diplomats Learned about the Holocaust.” It is available at the NARA Interagency Working Group website: http://
  11. For a more detailed and complete description of the catalogue and the PROCAT search system, go to the PRO/National Archives website at The equivalent NARA on-line search engine is called ARC (archives research catalogue) and is available at the U.S. National Archives website:
  12. “The Special Action Staff assigned to the 302nd Police Battalion, subordinate to the regiment assigned to Army Group South, reports shooting 4200 Jews.” “Signals Intelligence Pass[ed] to the Prime Minister, Messages and Correspondence.” HW 1/62, September 1941.
  13. In late 1942, the various concentration camps that sent status messages by radio were identified by single letters thusly: A — Oranienburg, B — Dachau, C — Mauthausen/Gusen, D — Buchenwald, E — Flossenburg, F — Auschwitz, G — Hinzert, H- Niederhagen, I — Lublin, K — Stutthof, and L — Debica. Two of these letters, and possibly the others, may have been derived from the last letter of the radio callsign of the camp. In those cases, Auschwitz was identified with callsign “OMF” and Buchenwald with “OMD.” Obviously, this list does not include all of the camps. See ZIP/OS 4/27.11.42, Section II, “Concentration Camps,” PRO, HW 16/66 and Phillips, Lt. E.D., GC&CS Air and Military History Vol. XIII. The German Police. 83. Also, it appears that the Death Camps in the General Government (the part of Poland directly overseen by the Nazis) had their own letters: B — Belzec, L — Lublin, S — Sobibor, and T — Treblinka. However these designators may have been arbitrarily assigned. See Peter Witte and Stephen Tyas, “A New Document on the Deportation and Murder of Jews during ‘Einsatz Reinhardt' 1942.” Holocaust and Genocide Studies (Vol. 15, No. 3, Winter 2001), 468-486, fn 8, 480.
  14. The SD merged with the Reichssicherheitshau-pamt (RSHA) or Reich Security Office in September 1939. The SD’s foreign activities, Branch III (Ausland) were transferred to RSHA VI, or foreign intelligence headed by Walter Schellenberg.
  15. See HW 12/272, January 1942.
  16. These summaries are marked with the serial “CX/MSS/SR.” The files of the MEW were transferred to FO 935.
  17. Hinsley, Vol. 1, 357-8.
  18. See Breitman, 116-7, for a discussion of the railway decrypts and potential importance to Holocaust research.
  19. Venona Translation T840, 21 June 1945, Washington to Moscow, and T2201, 13 April 1942, Stockholm to Moscow, National Cryptologic Museum.
  20. For a description of the messages and a short history of their intercept and decryption see Robert L. Benson, The Venona Story (Center for Cryptologic History, National Security Agency, Fort George G. Meade, MD; 2001), Reproductions of the Venona translations are also available online at the NSA website:
  21. Curiously, many ISCOT and MASK decrypts were in French and were not translated by GC&CS into English. Also, many intercepted French diplomatic messages, whether Vichy or Gaullist, which were exchanged with the Arlington Hall remained in the original French.