Wednesday, 7 August 2013

"For the fraction of a second it seemed she tottered there, on her knees, gazing directly at those who had taken her life."

Margaretha Geertruida "M'greet" Zelle MacLeod (7 August 1876 – 15 October 1917), better known by the stage name Mata Hari, was a Dutch exotic dancer, courtesan, and accused spy who was executed by firing squad in France under charges of espionage for Germany during World War I.

 Mata Hari was Indonesian for "sun" (literally, "eye of the day"), from the Sanskrit "goddess" and "god."

By 1905, Mata Hari began to win fame as an exotic dancer. Promiscuous, flirtatious, and openly flaunting her body, Mata Hari captivated her audiences and was an overnight success from the debut of her act at the Musée Guimet on 13 March 1905. She posed as a Java princess of priestly Hindu birth, pretending to have been immersed in the art of sacred Indian dance since childhood. The most celebrated segment of her act was her progressive shedding of clothing until she wore just a jeweled bra and some ornaments upon her arms and head. She was seldom seen without a bra as she was self-conscious about being small-breasted. She wore a bodystocking for her performances that was similar in color to her own skin.

Mata Hari's career went into decline after 1912. On March 13, 1915, she performed in her final show. This proved to be the end of her dancing career. She'd started her career relatively late for a dancer, and had started putting on weight. However, by this time she had become a successful courtesan, though she was known more for her sensuality and eroticism rather than for striking classical beauty. She had relationships with high-ranking military officers, politicians, and others in influential positions in many countries. Her relationships and liaisons with powerful men frequently took her across international borders.

In the autumn of 1915, she entered German service as a spy. In December 1916, the French let Mata Hari obtain the names of six Belgian agents: five of whom were suspected of submitting fake material and working for the Germans, while the sixth was suspected to be a double agent for Germany and France. Two weeks after Mata Hari had left Paris for a trip to Madrid, the double agent was executed by the Germans, while the five others continued their operations. This development served as proof to the Second Bureau that the names of the six spies had been communicated by Mata Hari to the Germans.

On 13 February 1917, Mata Hari was arrested in Paris. She was put on trial on 24 July, accused of spying for Germany and consequently causing the deaths of at least 50,000 soldiers. Under the circumstances, her conviction was a foregone conclusion. She was executed by firing squad on 15 October 1917, at the age of 41.

According to an eyewitness account by British reporter Henry Wales, she was not bound and refused a blindfold. Wales records her death, saying that after the volley of shots rang out "...Slowly, inertly, she settled to her knees, her head up always, and without the slightest change of expression on her face. For the fraction of a second it seemed she tottered there, on her knees, gazing directly at those who had taken her life. Then she fell backward, bending at the waist, with her legs doubled up beneath her..." A non-commissioned officer then walked up to her body, pulled out his revolver, and shot her in the head to make sure she was dead.

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