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Was Mata Hari, The Hindu Dancer, Secret Agent H-21 ?

Mata Hari

On October 15, 1917, at the height of the fighting of the First World War, the famous dancer Mata Hari, accused of spying on behalf of Germany, was shot. The Mata Hari enigma was born: was the seductress with whom the good Parisian society was infatuated at the turn of the century a secret agent?

A Hindu dancer ...

It was during a reception held on March 13, 1905 at the Guimet Museum, which houses famous collections of Asian art, that Tout-Paris noticed Mata Hari.

That evening, to the delight of the public coming to discover the arts of mysterious India, Mata Hari performs sacred dances learned in the secrecy of Hindu temples, dressed only in a few transparent veils that reveal her copper skin. The audience is fascinated. From then on, the strange dancer is seen in all the fashionable places and in the best salons, where she never tires of recounting her childhood in Java and her initiation into Brahmanic worship. Soon her fame spread to all European capitals.

... who turns out to be a Dutch girl with a hot temper!

Attractive, but also whimsical, Mata Hari knows how to deceive. However, it is soon discovered that she has little knowledge of Hindu rites and dances and that she is lying. The young woman with a dark complexion and almond eyes is actually Margaretha Zelle. She was born in 1876 in Leeuwarden, a small town in the north of the Netherlands. At 19, on a whim, she married Captain MacLeod, an officer of the colonial troops, who took her to Java, where she easily succeeded in seducing the rather snobbish good society of the Belle Époque.

The artist soon becomes a shrewd courtesan, traveling through Europe on her gallant adventures in the highest spheres of politics, diplomacy, finance or the army. No one finds fault with this hectic existence and these cosmopolitan relations as long as there is peace. But the outbreak of World War I changed everything. Mata Hari's incessant travels and associates become suspect for the French authorities. Isn't she the close friend of German dignitaries and officers? We are worried about seeing her seek out the company of French, British or Russian diplomats and officers, to meet her too often in places crucial to the conduct of the war.

Secret agent H-21's mission bomb

As fighting rages on all fronts, the fear of betrayal and espionage escalates. French and British secret services suspect Mata Hari of working for Germany. In 1916, the second office decided to put her to the test: she was offered to join the French secret service and was given an (imaginary) mission which was to take her to Belgium via ... Lisbon.

Mata Hari sets out on the journey but, on her way to Lisbon, she stops in Madrid where the most important German espionage center is located! There, on her own initiative, she slips into the privacy of the military attaché, Captain von Kalle. She draws information from him on German maneuvers, which she transmits to French services. But they continue to suspect her: is she not a double agent, trying to make people believe in her rallying to the French cause?

When the Germans execute a double agent whose name has been deliberately "given" to Mata Hari, the French think they have confirmed the dancer's guilt. Their fears are reinforced when they intercept coded messages sent by von Kalle to the German general staff. These messages refer to the missions and movements of German agent H-21, and these correspond exactly to the actions of Mata Hari.

For the French police, it is now certain that Agent H-21 and Mata Hari are one. The dancer was therefore arrested when she returned, after her mission, to settle in Paris, on February 14, 1917.

Lovers, curious lovers with German names

At first, Mata Hari denies any activity in favor of Germany and claims to have made contact with enemies for the sole purpose of providing intelligence to France. Then she ends up acknowledging that her game was more complex: attracted by the lure of profit, she indeed undertook to provide information to the Germans at the start of the war, but she claims to have played on them, sending them only trivial information. As for the money she received - starting with 30,000 marks from the German spy chief - she explains that, being her lover, it was only a gift ...

However, the War Council judging the case holds her accountable: it considers the intercepted messages and the large sums that Germany paid her to be overwhelming evidence. Moreover, in this difficult year 1917 in the theaters of operation, the time has come for the recovery of the forces of the nation and the greatest severity against the mutineers, the defeatists and especially the traitors. Mata Hari is therefore doomed.

The courageous end of a femme fatale

In July 1917, when Pétain had just put an end to the mutinies in Verdun, no one was moved by the fate of La Boche, and his petition for clemency was rejected by Poincaré, President of the Republic.

At dawn on October 15, the judicial authorities therefore burst into the cell where Mata Hari was sleeping soundly, stunned by the sleeping pills she had been administered the day before. Awake with a start, she has a moment of terror but quickly comes to her senses. After taking special care with her toilet, she asked to be baptized by the pastor, which was quickly granted.

Then she walks briskly to the cellular van that takes her to Vincennes. Twelve foot hunters are waiting. The convict refuses to be tied to the execution pole and to have a blindfold. A single detonation is heard, Mata Hari collapses to the ground, the troops march to the sound of the bugle. Since no one is claiming the body, a mock burial is done, then the recovered body is returned to the medical school and ends up on a dissection table.

Was the spy or the free woman executed?

Everything proves that Margaretha Zelle, alias Mata Hari, a “Hindu” dancer by profession, had close relations with German officers. Relationships both carnal and pecuniary ...

To get money, she has certainly rendered services, conveyed messages, all of which are serious in times of conflict, even if she could not provide vital information that could change the fate of the guns. But her game seemed unbearable in these times of war and suffering.

It is the scandalous woman as much as the spy that has been condemned.