World War I spy Mata Hari refused to fully confess to espionage before facing French firing squad in 1917.
Mata Hari was a wildly-popular Dutch exotic dancer, who was executed as a German spy in 1917.
The spy known as “Mata Hari” was glib in her final prison interrogation before her life ended in front of a French firing squad in the First World War, according to formerly top secret files from the British intelligence agency MI5.
Mata Hari, once a wildly popular Dutch exotic dancer, didn’t appear fazed when an interrogator confronted her with a long list of her lovers, an MI5 report released earlier this month states.
“When faced with her acquaintances with officers of all ranks and all nations, she replied that she loved all officers, and would rather have as her lover a poor officer than a rich banker,” the MI5 files note.
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Her lovers included a wide range of ages and nationalities, including Germans, French, Russians, Swiss and Spaniards, the files state.
At the time of her execution on Oct. 15, 1917, in a muddy field outside Paris, she was accused of feeding Germany information that cost some 50,000 Allied troops their lives.
But two academics who have studied her case say they don’t believe she provided Germany with any useful information for its war effort.
“She really did not pass on anything that you couldn’t find in the local newspapers in Spain,” said Julie Wheelwright of City University in London, the author of The Fatal Lover: Mata Hari and the Myth of Women in Espionage.
Mata Hari was the stage name for Gertruda Margaretha Zelle, who was born July 8, 1876, in the Dutch East Indies to a Dutch father and a Javanese mother. Wheelwright said she became an exotic dancer after fleeing an abusive marriage.
Wheelwright described her as “an independent woman, a divorcee, a citizen of a neutral country, a courtesan and a dancer, which made her a perfect scapegoat for the French, who were then losing the war.”
“She was kind of held up as an example of what might happen if your morals were too loose,” Wheelwright said.
Wesley Wark, a security, intelligence and terrorism expert at the University of Ottawa, said Mata Hari provided France with a scapegoat when the country wrestled with emerging power for women and fears of losing the war.
“They needed a scapegoat and she was a notable target for scapegoating,” Wark said.
In the MI5 files, an intelligence officer sounds impressed with her attitude during her final days.
“She never made a full confession nor can I find … that she ever gave away anyone as her (accomplice),” the report states.
“She was a ‘femme forte’ and she worked alone,” the report concludes.
The newly released files show Mata Hari was trailed by Allied surveillance officers across France, Spain and England.
The officers noted that on Aug. 4, 1916, she wrote to a Don Diego de Leon and then met a Capt. Vladimir de Masloff, of the Russian army, stationed in France.
“He was very intimate with her from this date and constant letters pass between, he was her favourite lover,” the MI5 files state.
“Same day she met PROFESSOR MARIANI Captain Italian Army.”
While in custody in the ancient Prison de Saint-Lazare outside Paris, she admitted to having spied for the Germans, the MI5 files state.
A file dated May 22, 1917 states: “Matahari today confessed that she has been engaged in Consul CREMER of Amsterdam for the German Secret Service. She was paid 20,000 (francs) in advance and her number was H.21.”
That file also notes her German spymasters gave her vials of invisible ink.
Much of her prison interrogation statement concerns mundane thoughts, not troop movements.
Her MI5 file includes the note: “She had discussed the life led by people in Paris, as regards supply of food etc., had said that the English officers in Paris treated their French Allies badly, although the French went out of their way to treat them ‘like Kings’; that the French nation might live to regret that they had ever allowed the English into the country … .”
Even if she wanted to divulge information, there wasn’t much she could say, Wark said. “Politics wasn’t really part of her world.”
Accounts of her execution say she waved off the offer of a blindfold or the last sacrament. She was reportedly blowing a kiss — at her lawyer, a nun or the firing squad, depending on who’s telling the story — the instant her life ended.
Wheelwright thinks this was likely bravado on the dancer’s part.
“This was going to be her last performance and she was going to go out in style,” she said. “She was playing to the crowd, which is what she always did.”
By: Peter Edwards Star Reporter, Published on Thu Apr 24 2014
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