Mata Hari

From Academic Kids

Mata Hari,  and convicted , made her name synonymous with  during .
Mata Hari, exotic dancer and convicted spy, made her name synonymous with femme fatale during WWI.

Mata Hari (August 7, 1876October 15, 1917) was the stage name of Margaretha Geertruida Zelle (spelled Margarete Gertrude Zelle in English), a Dutch exotic dancer who was accused, convicted and executed as a spy during World War I.

Mata Hari was born in Leeuwarden as a daughter to a Dutch businessman, while her mother was of Javanese descent. Around the turn of the 20th century, after a failed attempt to become a teacher, a failed marriage, and two children, she moved to Paris. She posed as a princess from Java and became an exotic dancer, performing "Oriental-style" dances. Her stage name Mata Hari means "sun" or "eye of the day" in Malay and Indonesian. She was also a courtesan who may have had affairs with many military officers and politicians.

Ms. Zelle slipped into innumerable French and German beds, and became a pawn in international intrigue, although historians have never clarified the exact nature of Mata Hari's spying activities. In 1917 she was put on trial in France, accused of spying, as a double agent, for Germany and France and causing the deaths of thousands of soldiers in World War I. Her arrest in France was caused by the German military attaché ©n Spain who radioed back a message to Berlin naming Mata Hari as a German spy in a code known by the Germans to be broken by the French. Mata Hari's trial occured at a time when the war was not going well for France, and for the French government it was very convenient to blame all of the military failures of the last three years on her. She was found guilty and executed by firing squad on October 15, 1917. Mata Hari was probably a low level agent for the French and the Germans, but there is no evidence that she ever produced any substantial intelligence for either side. All of the stories about the fortunes of entire nations resting on Mata Hari should be regarded as myths.

There are numerous rumors surrounding her execution. One well-known story is that during the execution, the squad members had to be blindfolded so as not to succumb to her charms. However, one would wonder how they managed to shoot her accurately if that was true. Another rumor claims she blew a kiss to her killers before the firing began. A third tale claims that not only did she fling a kiss to her killers, she flung open her long coat and died exposing her naked body.

A final, and more complicated rumor is the most unlikely and yet the most persistent. Mata Hari was said to be unusually composed at the execution, accepting a shot of rum but refusing to be blindfolded or bound to a tree. This was later explained by the dubious tale of a young man named Pierre de Morrisac arranging to bribe the firing squad into loading their guns with blanks. The execution would be faked. However, the plot was a failure, and the guns were loaded properly. The tale is highly unlikely to be true, as it bears a suspicious resemblance to Puccini's popular opera, Tosca.

"Harlot, yes. But traitoress? Never!" —attributed to Mata Hari, on trial.

The 1931 film of her final days, "Mata Hari", starred Greta Garbo in the leading role.

A fictionalized version of Margarete Zelle, a French super-spy code-named Malkovich, appears as a character in the video game Shadow Hearts, joining the hero's party during a botched terrorist attack in Fengtian in 1913.

Note that, coincidentally, mata-mata means spy in Indonesian.


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