November 9, 2008

.....and the Temptress

Mata Hari (1876-1917) was the stage name used by a Dutch dancer and spy in German service during World War I. As a dancer in Paris, she joined the German secret service in 1907, and during the war she betrayed important military secrets confided to her by a number of high-ranking Allied officers who were on intimate terms with her. She passed secrets along to the German high command. In 1917 she was arrested, convicted, and executed by the French.

Born Margaretha Zelle in 1876 in the Netherlands, Mata Hari attended teachers' college in Holland before, marrying Captain Campbell MacLeod in 1895. They lived together from 1897-1902 in Indonesia.

They separated after returning to Europe. To make ends meet, Mata Hari took to dancing on the Paris stage, first known as 'Lady MacLeod' and soon after as 'Mata Hari'. Matahari is the term for the “eye of dawn” in the Indonesian language of Malay. She retained that name until her execution.

Highly successful in Paris and other cities, Mata Hari's attractiveness, as well as her apparent willingness to appear almost nude on the stage, made her a huge hit. She cultivated numerous lovers, including many military officers.

The circumstances around her spying activities are unclear. Mata Hari claimed she had been paid to act as a French spy in Belgium, but had neglected to inform her French masters that she was already spying for the Germans. As a double agent, she was not very successful. She was frequently given stale information to pass on as real. The German's may have been baiting France into killing on of its own agents or maybe the Germans wanted Mata Hari out of the way and wished the French to do the actual dirty work.

The French officials had long known of her German contacts but they lacked sufficient evidence until they intercepted a damning telegram. She appeared to possess knowledge of a code name only recognizable by the Germans, indicating that she had started spying for Germany prior to agreeing to spy for France. The French arrested her on 13 February 1917 in Paris. Following her imprisonment a military court tried her. 50,000 Allied casualties were attributed to her treachery. Mata Hari was executed in Paris by a 12-man firing squad. She was 41.

The very name Mata Hari has since become synonymous with spying, espionage, intrigue, and sensuality but to many she remains the unfortunate victim of a hysterical section of the French press and public determined to find a non-existent enemy within. Her crimes and her curious profession made her an attractive scapegoat. No one claimed her body after her execution. She was given to the University of Paris medical school for dissection

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