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WWII's Great Unsung Female Codebreaker

Elizebeth Smith Friedman, WWII codebreaker (Photo: George C. Marhsal Foundation)

Many of the Allies and Advocates of the Jewish people who we bring you each week were heroes during World War II. And many of their actions directly saved the lives of Jewish people. However this week, The Times of Israel's Rich Tenorio tells us about a courageous and brilliant woman whose actions saved countless lives, perhaps indirectly, and whose codebreaking prowess is only now being recognized:

Even as the United States fought the Axis Powers in Europe, Africa and Asia during World War II, a new threat emerged at home — this time from a Nazi spy ring operating out of South America.

The cell sought to conduct both political and military operations as they worked to sway the politically-neutral continent towards the Germans, while reporting on Allied ship movements, putting vessels at risk of destruction by German U-boats.

J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI had no answer for the ring. But Elizebeth Smith Friedman did.

Working for the Coast Guard under the Treasury Department, the veteran codebreaker (whose Jewish-American husband, William Friedman, was himself a legendary name in intelligence history) had honed her skills battling Prohibition-era smugglers — who, it turned out, had used codes similar to those employed by the Nazi spies.

Friedman not only cracked the Nazi codes, she helped bring down the spy ring. In January 1944, Nazi isolation from South America was complete when Argentina broke off relations with the Axis.

Yet for decades, this story — and the woman behind it — were lost to history...

Tags: Advocates and Allies

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