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Discover Mata Hari
Following the recent release of the first documents concerning the life and times of Mata Hari by the British Security Service, there is strong evidence that the most renowned woman in spy history was not "one of the greatest spies of the century, responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers". In fact, she was most likely naive, easily duped and trapped by her "friends" as well as her enemies during World War I. Her story however, is nonetheless fascinating which means that she has earned a place on Bobby J's website.
Mata Hari was born in Holland as Magaretha Gertrud Zelle to a well-to-do Dutch shopkeeper and his Javanese wife. She attended a school for teachers but was forced to leave for 'inappropriate behaviour' with the headmaster. At age 18, she married a Dutch naval officer who was 20 years older than her. They soon moved to the Dutch East Indies and had two children, but divorced in 1906. One year before, in 1905, she moved to Paris where she assumed the name Mata Hari (Eye of Dawn) and the persona of a Javanese princess. She made her debut as an erotic dancer at the Oriental Studies Museum.
Mata Hari became famous and moved in the highest circles of Europe. Her fame made it easy for her to travel to various European countries, even during the war.
During World War I, Mata Hari met and had an affair with a 25-year-old Russian pilot flying with the French, Captain Vadim Maslov, son of a Russian admiral. When Maslov was wounded she asked permission to visit him in a forward hospital near the war front. French officials at the Deuxieme Bureau gave her permission--in return for agreeing to spy on the Germans, including possibly the crown prince, whom she knew. She was to receive one million francs for her efforts.
To carry out her assignment, Mata Hari traveled to Spain en route to neutral Holland, from which she could cross over into Germany to rendezvous with the crown prince. En route to Holland, her ship stopped over in Falmouth, England, where she was detained and interrogated by the British intelligence service. They questioned her on every suspicious move or meeting she'd had, but her alibis were watertight. She even told her interrogators that she worked for the French Secret Service. Without evidence of any wrong doing, the British agents could do nothing more and so decided to release her. Of note, for a long time, historians have thought her arrest was mere coincidence. However, according to the recently released British documents, the British Secret Service MI-5 had been keeping Mata Hari under close surveillance since 1915. Regardless, British officials warned her not to go to Germany and sent her back to Spain. There she met and became romantically involved with the German military Attache, Major Kalle.
In the meantime, the French too were becoming suspicious. Mata Hari appeared to have lovers on both sides of the border. Who knows what secrets were being exchanged during her romantic encounters. It was also becoming clear that German army officers were paying her. Officially, it was to keep them company but the French intelligence office wasn't convinced of that. What if she was being paid for passing on sensitive information? This reasoning was made all the more plausible when Major Kalle sent a coded message to Berlin saying that spy "H-21" had proved valuable. Of interest, in sending this message, Major Kalle used a code that he knew the Allies could read.
On January 4, 1917, Mata Hari returned to Paris and was arrested on February 13th by the French Secret Service. Although French and British intelligence services suspected her of spying for Germany, neither could produce any definite evidence against her. During one particularly long interrogation session, Mata Hari succumbed to her interrogators and confessed to being a German spy, known under the pseudonym of H-21. Though she admitted to accepting money from the Germans, she said that it was for her 'romantic' involvements with them. Soon afterwards, 'secret ink' was found in her room- incriminating evidence at that time. Though she contended that it was part of her makeup, it was used as conclusive evidence against her.
The military court-martial that followed was nothing more than a showcase trial. The French convinced that Mata Hari was "one of the greatest spies of the century, responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers," found her guilty and sentenced her to death.
On October 15, 1917, Mata Hari was executed by a French firing squad. Refusing a blindfold or to be bound to the stake, she blew a kiss to the 12-man firing squad before their rifles shattered the morning stillness.