This is the next in a blog series on the notable people of World War One.
August 7, 1876, in Leeuwarden, Netherlands.
Her birth name was Margaretha Geertruida Zelle.
Zelle had a privileged upbringing for the first decade or so of her life. After that, financial problems plagued her family, her parents divorced and her mother died. She went to school to become a teacher, but was expelled when she had sex with the headmaster.
Sex was a weakness Zelle would have her entire life.
In 1895, she married Rudolph MacLeod. The pair later separated and divorced in 1906. Their marriage was rocky. They had financial problems. He drank, and they both cheated. He gave her syphilis.
They had two children, one of whom died as a young child from poisoning.
Zelle moved to Paris in 1905 to become an exotic dancer. She made up a background story for herself and changed her name to Mata Hari. She had lived in Malaysia with her husband for several years and used this knowledge for her stories.
Her popularity grew. She was willing to appear nearly naked – she kept her breasts, which she was self conscious of, covered – in a day and age when the closest thing in terms of sexuality on stage was women flashing their underwear.
Despite her success, she was not careful with money and relied on gifts from men.
World War One:
She was in Berlin when the war broke out and eventually left for Amsterdam.
Hari had a large number of lovers, many of whom were military officers. She used these connections to spy for Germany beginning in 1916.
She was arrested in France for espionage in February 1917 and tried. During the trial, she was accused of passing information on to the enemy that lead to the deaths of thousands of Allies. However, Hari did not admit to this. All she said was she passed along some outdated information and that she was seeking help from a German duke for the Allies.
She was reportedly a double agent.
She was sentenced to death.
October 15, 1917, by French firing squad outside Paris. She refused to wear a blindfold.
Historians believe she didn’t pass along any information that was damaging and that her trial was riddled with prejudice and rumor.
In 2017, a French dossier of the case will be made public. It is expected to also reveal her innocence.
Do you think Mata Hari was guilty? Leave a comment below.
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