Two treasure hunters who found a rare Nazi encryption device that replaced the Enigma machine are taking the German state to court over ownership of the object which is reportedly worth a six-figure sum.
Treasure hunters Max Schoeps and Volker Schranner found the World War II “Hitler mill” decoder, which was created which to replace the infamous Enigma machine, with their metal detector in May 2017 in a forest near Aying, a town in the German state of Bavaria.
Despite at first thinking it was an ordinary typewriter used by the Nazis, the two later found out it was a “Schluesselgeraet 41” (literally: “cipher machine 41”), an infamous encryption machine of which only 500 were ever used before the end of World War II.
Schoeps has now started a case at an administrative court as he wants to determine with the help of a judge’s ruling whether or not the finding can or cannot be considered as an archaeological find.
According to the State Office for the Preservation of Historic Monuments, the cipher machine is an archaeological find which means that only the German state has full rights over the discovery.
Despite handing over the device to the authorities, the State Office claims Schoeps failed to abide by legal provisions when retrieving the device from the forest, which has now prompted the treasure hunter to take the authorities to court over the matter.
Spokesman Florian Schlemmer of the administrative court said: “The district administration of Munich as a monument preservation authority has asked him [Schoeps] to comment on violations of the monument protection law.”
The decryption device is currently set to be displayed exactly as it was found in a permanent exhibition about imagery, scripture and coding in the Deutsches Museum (German Museum) in Munich which will open towards the end of 2019.
However, if Schoeps and Schranner are given rights over the device, they might be able to sell it for a six-figure sum to collectors, according to local media.
While according to German media, everyone knows the famous enigma machines which the Allies managed to decode at Bletchley Park, the Allied codebreaker HQ in Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, this other German deciphering machine is much less known.
The machine is nicknamed the “Hitler mill” because of the crank on its side which soldiers had to turn to operate it.
With a QWERTZ-keyboard, the 16-inch device looks like an ordinary typewriter.
It was produced in Chemnitz in the German state of Saxony, in 1944, by the Wanderer factory, which made the devices besides their normal work of building cars and bikes.
The Wehrmacht decided to produce the machine to replace the Enigma and Lorenz machines as they were not deemed secure enough by top Nazi bosses.
The “Hitler mill” was one of the many encryption devices developed by the cryptologist Fritz Menzer between 1939 and 1944.
Its algorithm was much safer than that of the famous Enigma, but only a few of these machines were produced before the end of WWII. They were mostly used by Hitler’s intelligence services and the Nazi army.
Most of the devices were destroyed or discarded towards the end of the war, but this particular machine was apparently just left behind in the woods.
According to cryptography expert Carola Dahlke, it was an extremely lucky find.
Dahlke said: “Such an archaeological find is very rare.”