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100 years ago, Mata Hari was shot for espionage

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – STR – | Undated photo of Margaretha Zelle, aka Mata Hari, shot for espionage on October 15, 1917

One hundred years ago, on 15 October 1917, Margaretha Zelle, world-renowned as Mata Hari, and whose bare dances had defied the chronicle, was at 41 years shot for espionage.

Before her, in the middle of the world war, on January 10 and March 15, Marguerite Francillard and a Miss Tichelly, forgotten spies, had also been executed.

Mata Hari arrived in Paris at the age of 27 in November 1903. She left her native land, the Netherlands; and her husband, Rudolf MacLeod, naval officer, 20 years her senior. Seeking fortune, she tries to be the model of the painter Octave Guillonnet. But the experience is inconclusive.

She then danced in the private rooms under the name of Lady Mac Leod, before reaching fame under the pseudonym of Mata Hari (“The Sun” in Malay) performing “Indian dances” of which she does not know everything. She imagines, thanks to the memories of her stay in the Dutch East Indies, where she had followed her husband.

Thus, Emile Guimet, the founder of the Guimet Museum, opens her theater for the famous performance of May 13, 1905, which began as a Hindu princess and ended completely naked.

Ⓒ PA/AFP/Archives – – | Undated photo of Margaretha Zelle, aka Mata Hari, shot for espionage on October 15, 1917

This is the beginning of a worldly life because such a spectacle is rare and liable to correctional. Word of mouth makes Mata Hari a much sought after artist. She says she was born in Java, dances as she pleases and ends naked. Critics observe that the true Hindu dancers take on a strict costume.

Nevertheless, Mata Hari dances at the Folies-Bergère, the Olympia, the Trocadéro, Marigny, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and other European capitals. Only the director of the Odeon, judging that she does not know how to dance, throws her out. She will win the lawsuit against him, but it will be the end of his career.

Mata Hari lives in the Champs-Elysées and leads a call-girl life with ministers for clients.

– Agent H 21 –

The war breaks out. In 1915 she returned to the Netherlands. It was there that at the beginning of 1916, indebted by her way of life, she accepted that a German diplomat settled her debts in exchange for information. Here it becomes agent H 21.

On returning to Paris, she met Captain Ladoux, an officer in the second office, counterespionage, who was already suspicious of her. By dint of attending ministers, Mata Hari thinks she is all powerful. Ladoux gave him some missions and watched her.

Doubts are accentuated when she arrives at the 2nd office, boulevard Saint-Germain, in the summer of 1916, in order to obtain a pass to go to Vittel, where France is just building a military airfield. It is given to him, but his condemnation is signed.

In January 1917, a message from the German services was intercepted, proving that agent H 21 was a double agent. Historians will say that Germany thus voluntarily delivered Mata Hari, knowing that the French would decipher the text.

Commissioner Priolet arrested her on 13 February in her room at the Elysée Palace Palace on the Champs Elysées and was locked up at the Saint-Lazare prison.

On 24 July she was sentenced to death by the War Council. Lieutenant André Mornet, who acts as an exceptional prosecutor and will demand against Marshal Petain in 1945, gets his head. “There was nothing to whip a cat,” he said later.

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – VALERY HACHE – | French actress Vahina Giocante at MIPCOM in Cannes for the presentation of the television series “Mata Hari”, October 16, 2016

Before the execution squad, the officer-clerk asks her if she has any revelations to make, she will reply: “None, and if I had, I would keep them for me.”

The celebrity of this woman will make of her pseudonym a common name to designate any courtesan-spy. It will inspire at least ten filmmakers and a number of writers and historians and until the Dutch national ballet which in 2015 created in Amsterdam the ballet Mata Hari, choreographer Ted brandsen, on a music by Tarik O ‘ Regan.

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