After WW2, German author Arno Schmidt created an encrypted letter addressed to Truman, Stalin, and Churchill. To my knowledge, is has never been deciphered.

Arno Schmidt (1914-1979), one of the most important German-language writers of the 20th century, left behind four cryptograms. I covered them on this blog last year. As far as I know, these ciphertexts have never been solved. My readers, who have broken many a tough cryptogram over the last few years, were not successful in this case, either.

Source: Jens Rusch

Blog reader Karsten Hansky has recently made me aware of another cryptogram Arno Schmidt created.


Arno Schmidt

Admittedly, I have never read any of Arno Schmidt’s books or stories. The literature he created is very sophisticated and hard to understand, to say the least. Schmidt is little known outside of German-speaking areas, in part because his works are as good as impossible to translate. Here’s what Wikipedia writes about him:

Schmidt was a strict individualist, almost a solipsist. Disaffected by his experience of the Third Reich, he had an extremely pessimistic world view. In Schwarze Spiegel, he describes his utopia as an empty world after an anthropogenic apocalypse. […] His writing style is characterized by a unique and witty style of adapting colloquial language, which won him quite a few fervent admirers. Moreover, he developed an orthography by which he thought to reveal the true meaning of words and their connections amongst each other.


Schmidt’s encrypted letter to the excellences

The ciphertext Karsten informed me about has the form of a letter. Written in 1948 or 1949, this message is addressed to Truman, Roosevelt, Stalin, Churchill and Attlee, i.e., to the leaders of the USA, the Soviet Union and the UK. These nations represented the winners of the Second World War and were the most powerful countries in the world in the late 1940s.

Here’s the letter:

Source: Arno Schmidt’s Wundertüte

Here’s a (hopefully correct) transcript:

An die Exzellenzen
Truman (Roosevelt), Stalin, Churchill (Attlee)

Jalta, Teheran, Potsdam.

8 c 357 8xup ZEUs !

id 21v18 Pt 7 gallisc 314002a 17 ? V 31 GpU 4a 29, 39, 49 ? mz 71Fi16 34007129 pp 34 udi19jem 13349 bubu WEg !

Muff 19 exi; 16 enu 070 zIm 4019 abs12c 24 spü, 43 asti siv 13999 idle 48, 19037 pem 8 pho 36. 1012 sabi FR26a FlisCh 26 : iwo — 18447 g7 gg !
Glent 31, glent 14 Po

Arno Schmidt

In Jalta, Teheran, and Potsdam, three major conferences of the 1940s took place. At these events, the USA, the Soviet Union, and the UK decided about the future of Germany and Europe after the Second World War.

I assume that Schmidt’s note is a literary text, not a real letter that was meant to be sent to the listed recipients. Apparently, the first line, “An die Exzellenzen” (“To the excellences”), is used as the title of this work. The text was published in the book Arno Schmidt’s Wundertüte. Eine Sammlung fiktiver Briefe aus den Jahren 1948/49 from 1992 (page 13).

As it seems, I’m not the only one who has blogged about An die Exzellenzen. In 2006, there was a post about this work on the Austrian research platform Kakanien Revisited. No comments were published, let alone something crypto-related.


Solution approaches

Of course, there is no guarantee that Schmidt’s letter can be decrypted. It is well possible that the lines of this short literary work are meaningless gibberish meant to express the author’s helplessness a few years after one of the greatest desasters in human history.

If there is a cryptologic solution, I would expect that Arno Schmidt has employed a simple encryption scheme, such as a letter-based substitution, perhaps with a few tweaks. To my knowledge, there is no evidence that Schmidt ever occupied himself with cryptography, which makes is unlikely that he knew a more advanced encryption technique.

However, it seems difficult to find a meaning in character sequences such as 314002a. If these expressions represent encrypted words, it’s hard to tell if every character stands for a letter or if there are also character pairs (e.g., 31) that have a joint meaning.

If a reader can make sense of this strange literary text, please let me know.

Further reading: A prison cryptogram and two literature cryptograms from Craig Bauer’s lecture


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Kommentare (11)

  1. #1 Bill Briere
    Wyoming, USA
    24. Juli 2020

    There are some typos in the transcript:
    • “71Fii6” should be “71Fi16”
    • “udii9jem” should be “udi19jem”
    • “zlm” should be “zIm” (an eye, not an el)
    • “absl2c” should be “abs12c”
    • “spii” should be “spü”

  2. #2 user unknown
    25. Juli 2020

    It might be interesting to know whether he used to type blanks before question and exclamation marks in his normal writings, letters – from typesetting, you normally don’t do that.
    The multiple, clustered Blanks in the headline look suspicious, too.

  3. #3 Bill Briere
    Wyoming, USA
    25. Juli 2020

    @user unknown: Inserting spaces before some punctuation marks is common in a few European languages. It used to always be this way in German (certainly in the 1940s), but not so much nowadays.

  4. #4 Stephan
    25. Juli 2020

    @bill thats not simple to be said as for arno Schmidt at least the usage of punctuations is a well know challenge. More can be read (sorry only in German) here: at the bottom of the page “Bei der Suche nach Satzzeichen zu beachten” But normaly you can be sure that Schmidt counts spaces

  5. #5 Klaus Schmeh
    26. Juli 2020

    @Bill: Thank you very much for checking my OCR transcript! I have corrected the mistakes you found.

  6. #6 schorsch
    28. Juli 2020

    Bill: Inserting spaces before punctuation marks has never been common in Germany, certainly not in the 1940s. You might find some documents from this time which show such a quirk. But that’s either the autors personal quirk, or might be caused by some technical limitation of the contemporal communication means.

  7. #7 NoName
    23. Oktober 2020

    A short commet: Schmidt uses a quite unusual orthographie, even in this normal textes and the translations of poe.

    And, as Schmidt translated Poe in German, he should get in contact with some crypto.

  8. #8 Tareq
    3. Mai 2021

    Arno Schmidt wrote this pseudo-letter on March 13, 1949. The source for this date is the diary of his wife Alice. It is not published so far, but as far as I know Schmidt admitted to his wife that this cryptogram contains nothing, it is pure nonsense. Asking the Arno Schmidt Foundation should be the simplest way to get the diary entry.

  9. #9 Tareq
    3. Mai 2021

    Oh dear, its much simpler: just checked my “Wundertüte”, final remarks by Bernd Rauschenbach there. Rauschenbach (p.228) cites from Alice Schmidts diary, 13.3.1949: “A malt aber nur schnell Zahlen & Buchstaben bunt durcheinander. Ein ganz ausgezeichneter Witz!”

    I won’t translate this here, but in short: it was no real cryptogram, just a joke.

  10. #10 Thomas
    3. Mai 2021


    A very interesting find that proves he only mimicked a cryptogram! I’d like to add the end of the sentence preceding your quote from his diary describing that letter: “… & einen an d. 3 Oberhäupter d. 3 Weltmächte der wie verschlüsselt aussehen soll.” (“and one to the 3 heads of the 3 world powers that should look like encrypted.”)

  11. #11 Tareq
    4. Mai 2021

    @Thomas: Thank you for completing the citation. Case closed 🙂

    However, one more thought on the topic: this letter was just a joke, but on the contrary, I am convinced that Schmidts later cryptograms from “Porträt einer Klasse” contain specific information. Nobody was able to crack this code so far. I have a gut feeling that Schmidts big logarithmic table (“Siebenstellige Logarithmentafel”) hides the key for his encryption. This had been an exhausting and disappointing project for Schmidt, since after WW2 no publisher was interested in this extensive mathematical work. When I see the number code in “Porträt einer Klasse”, the digits seem to cry out: “If you want to decipher this, you have to note my logarithmic tables!”

    Just a speculation, but may be helpful for solving the mystery.