Early 1900s |

Mata Hari Executed - 10/15/1917

On this present day in 1917, the classic charming female undercover agent Mata Hari was executed for espionage by a French firing squad in Vincennes outside of Paris.

She found fame as a talented performer of Oriental dances when she came to Paris in 1905. Then she began touring all of Europe, and telling people of her birth in an Indian temple where a priestess taught her ancient Indie dances, and named her Mata Hari, which means "eye of the era", in Indonesia dialect.

However, Mata Hari was not born in India neither was she taught any ancient dance by a priestess, she was born in August 7, 1876 in Leeuwarden, a small town in northern Netherlands, and her real name was Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, Her father was a hat trader who went bankrupt after bad investments, while her mother Antje Zelle died of illness when she was 15 years of age. Eventually, she and her three brothers were sent to live with different relatives, where she realized that her sexuality is the greatest possession she had.

The Indian and Javanese dances she claimed to be taught by a priestess were the result of her several years she and her former husband Rudolf MacLeod, a military captain in the Dutch colonial army lived in Malaysia. Whether living a fabricated life or not, France to Russia, everywhere she performed was always filled because she is fond of stripping nude during her shows.

Mata Hari became popular, and her register of lovers began including government and high-ranking military personnel from several countries during World War 1. In February 1917, she was arrested by the French authorities for working as a secret agent and was imprisoned at St. Lazare Prison, Paris. Later in the month of June, she was accused of revealing details of the Allies' new weapon, "The Tank", which caused death of thousands of French soldiers. On October 15, she was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to death. At the firing squad, Mata Hari removed her blindfold, and blew the soldiers a kiss as they aim to fire her. She was killed instantly when the gunshots hit her.

It is possible that Mata Hari was a German spy, and acted as a double agent for the French authorities. However, the Germans had written her off as an inefficient agent after her gathered intelligence is of no value. However, her military trial was shallow with little evidence to support the claim that she was a spy. The only real crime she may have committed was falsifying her identity. In addition, the French authorities may have vented their anger on her at a time when the Allies were failing to beat back the Germans on the western front. Moreover, French authorities may probably made her as a scapegoat for the distracting military officers, whereas, all she wanted was to live a life of love and pleasure.

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Mark Hinderberg


Retired History Professor at Vanderbilt University. Love taking a portal through time and sharing my knowledge with anyone else who loves reading about history. It is my passion and my greatest hobby.