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Famous Spies: Mata Hari

"Mata Hari’s Dutch origins gave her a freedom that most did not enjoy during this time of war. "

Among those engaged in the business of spying, there is one woman who stands out from the crowd.  Her name has spread far and wide, not only due to the part she played in spying for the Germans during World War I, but for the way that she managed to accomplish her tasks.  Mata Hari, born in 1876 as Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, had an impact on the world that was larger than just the effects of her intelligence operations.

Born into a fairly affluent family, Mata Hari lived a comfortable life until her father went bankrupt.  She was originally studying to be a teacher, but when she came across an advertisement from an Army Captain seeking a wife, she saw it as her opportunity to move up.  This gave her access to the upper class world that she enjoyed living in, but after putting up with an alcoholic, abusive husband for so many years, she finally left for Paris.

In Paris, Mata Hari started her foray into the entertainment world as a circus horse rider.  She also 

posed as an artist’s model on the side.  In 1905, she became an exotic dancer and courtesan.  It was then that she adopted the name Mata Hari or “Eye of the Dawn” as her stage name.  The character she portrayed was a princess from Java who had been trained to dance since she was a child.  Despite her European appearance, many believed her to be what she said she was.

She became very successful at her trade and ended up as courtesan to several important people.  High-ranking military and political players were among those in her company.  Mata Hari’s success helped to elevate the status of exotic dancers to a more respectable and accepted form of performance, paving the way for future generations.  Her success also placed her in the company of some of the most powerful people in Europe at the time and gave her 

access to sensitive information.  It is believed that this was the time when she began to act as a spy for Germany.

Mata Hari’s Dutch origins gave her a freedom that most did not enjoy during this time of war.  The Netherlands had remained neutral in the conflict, which meant she could cross national borders as she saw fit, delivering information to the Germans from Paris.

It was the year of 1917 that would prove to be fatal for Mata Hari.  French intelligence intercepted a message from the Germans and managed to deduce that Mata Hari was indeed spying for them.  She was arrested and then executed by firing squad on September 15th, though her name lives on in legend.