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Documentary “The Codebreaker” by Chana Gazit

The Codebreaker is a documentary about Elizebeth Smith Friedman, a significant figure during WWII, yet not many people know about her. Friedman began her career as a codebreaker when she started analyzing whether Shakespeare’s works were written by Francis Bacon or William Shakespeare himself. Friedman and her husband soon became excellent codebreakers, which is why they were assigned to train other future codebreakers during the first world war. This job was especially valued due to the invention of the radio, which became a helpful tool that people would use to send each other encrypted messages. Friedman’s work was handy since, at the time, the US did not have NSA and CIA, and the military only had small departments dealing with espionage and secret work.

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Besides having a great influence on decoding messages during the war, Elizebeth Friedman was proficient in dealing with mafia operations. Specifically, the work involved figuring out the location of the ships that would transport illegal alcohol. Moreover, Friedman was efficient in helping the US army during World War II. In particular, the encrypted messages that were being addressed were related to the Nazi Spy Ring operating in South America. While Elizebeth Friedman’s work was a remarkable example of professional dedication, intelligence, and efficiency, the non-disclosure oath signed with the Navy meant no one would find out about her work. Elizabeth’s story became public in 2008 when some of the files about her were declassified (Gazit, 2021). Thus, one of the most significant women in the 20th century was not recognized by the public for her bravery and intelligence during her lifetime.

The documentary raises some interesting points. First, there is an emphasis on the discrimination that stopped women from pursuing their dreams. Of course, Elizebeth Friedman managed to achieve a lot during her lifetime, but even those who were talented and extremely intelligent like her could not reach adequate success. An example is how Friedman had to give up the leadership position because the Navy did not recognize the women’s right to rule over men. The whole story illustrates that obstacles do not stop a person from becoming successful, but they create an environment in which one’s deeds cannot be fully and fairly recognized and rewarded.

Another significant point that is brought up in the movie is the secrecy around some of the most brilliant people. Elizebeth Friedman was undoubtedly an excellent codebreaker who possibly changed the course of the war by flawlessly doing her job. Since even people like Friedman are not talked about or well-known, there must be thousands of more figures who significantly influenced world events, yet the public does not recognize their names. It is plausible that as more and more files and documents lose their private status, the world will learn about a lot more women, people of color, and other groups who have had a significant impact on the world. Due to them being part of underrepresented and discriminated against minorities, they could not be openly praised and remunerated for their work. As times are changing and individuals are starting to have equal opportunities, hopefully, the next Elizebeth Friedman will be recognized by the general public and become a living role model for young girls pursuing challenging jobs. By talking about such remarkable individuals, more individuals will be inspired to overcome obstacles and fulfill their life goals.


Gazit, C. (2021). The codebreaker [Film]. PBS.

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