100 Years Of Mata Hari’s Execution

Mata Hari, the famous dancer and infamous spy

Exactly a century ago, on 15 October 1917, the most famous or infamous female spy in history was executed in firing squad.

Mata Hari was professionally a dancer, and a brittilant one. Her unique form of nude dance attracted numerous generals, ministers, business tycoons around the world.

Mata Hari with her traditional outfits
Mata Hari with her traditional outfits

Using these special relations with those high profiles, Mata Hari used to collect confidential information from her clients. Then sell those to opponent groups. Thus she became one of the most notorious spies in history. However it also brought the highest penalty one can had for that kind of risk.

In the morning of her execution day, Mata Hari was taken to the outskirt of Vincennes, France. Carried by a grey military jeep, Mata was accompanied by two nuns and a lawyer.

Mata Hari made stand infront of a pole. 12 members of firing squad team lined up in a fair distance from her. 41 years old Mata Hari was wearing a long coat and a wide edged felt cap. Some sources claimed Mata didn’t let her eyes to be folded, but her hands were tied up.

Police photo of Mata Hari from the day of her arrest
Police photo of Mata Hari from the day of her arrest (Museum of Friesland Collection, Leeuwarden)

As the commander of the firing squad lowered down his sword, soldiers started to fire. Once celebrated dancer Mata Hari fell down to her knees.

The name ‘Mata Hari’ came from Indonesian language which means ‘eye of the day’ or ‘the sun’. Her real name was Margaretha Geertruida, born in Netherlands in 1876.

Though there is a photograph available of just before Mata Hari’s execution, many claim that was a still of a movie, not a real one.

In the first decade of twentieth century, the European capitals were mad for Mata Hari. Her exotic performance, sex appeal, amazing costumes and milestone strip dancing made her a secret celebrity among high profile politicians, bureaucrats and military officers.

French court's notification of Mata's death sentence
French court’s notification of Mata’s death sentence (Museum of Friesland Collection, Leeuwarden)

But soon after the First World War started, the government intelligence agencies find out that Mata Hari was actually spying over them. Through her relationships with the top ranks of Allied Forces, she used to collect and pass confidential information to Nazi Germany.

Mata Hari was arrested. But all were shocked when in further investigation it was found that Mata Hari was actually a double agent. She not only worked for Germany, but smuggled information for Allied Forces from Nazis as well. For money she worked for both opponents of the war.

According to the reports, thousands and thousands of soldiers from both sides were killed in the war just for Mata Hari’s betrayal.

Mata Hari’s marriage life was not very pleasant. But after arriving in Paris, she made herself promimant as an erotic dancer. Many believes the striptease dance form, where a woman takes off her clothes one by one while dancing, was actually started by Mata Hari.

One of Mata Hari's brooches
One of Mata Hari’s brooches (courtesy: Erik and Petra Hesmerg)

During the First World War, French intelligences caught a telegram sent form German military official Arnold Von Kalle. Someone named ‘Agent H21’ with information like address, bank accounts were mentioned in it, which the intelligences later found to be one of Mata Hari’s servant’s. They realized that the ‘Agent 21’ is none other than the famous dancer Mata Hari.

That telegram is still being displayed in a museum. However many have doubt about that telegram. They believe the French officials made up that telegram by themselves to forge Mata Hari. Their logic is as France was losing battle one after another in the war, they had to made someone responsible for their defeats and pacify the anger of the nation.

Mata Hari facing the firing squad. However some claim that it may be a still from a contemporaneous film
Mata Hari facing the firing squad. However some claim that it may be a still from a contemporaneous film

However Mata Hari confessed that Germany appointed her as spy in 1915. She also admitted that she spied in the same way against her Nazi employers. Mata claimed that though she had worked as a double agent, she was in principle loyal to the Allied Forces. She said that her intension was to get as much money as possible from Germany and run away. But no evidence was found in support of this claim.

After her execution, no one came to collect Mata Hari’s body. It was later given to a medical school in Paris for anatomical studies. But her head was preserved in an anatomy museum. Unfortunately it was found missing 20 years ago. It is believed someone had stolen the last remaining of the most famous dancer and the most infamous female spy in human history.


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