De Vos: Mata Hari executed tomorrow! |

De Vos: Mata Hari executed tomorrow!

Jon DeVos
Staff Photo |

Hooking up online has never been easier. I’ll have my app get in touch with your app. But back before, there were only newspapers. And that’s how shapely Marge Zelle met wealthy Rudy MacLeod. Rudy was living in Indonesia in the 1890s and desperately seeking companionship. He advertised for a bride in European newspapers and Marge, living in Amsterdam, fell deeply in love with his ad.

They married in 1895 and moved to Java, but as so often happens on blind dates, Rudy turned out to be an alcoholic brute with a syphilitic mistress. The bloom came off the rose and Marge moved in with the guy across the street. There, she took up the latest dance craze, took on the name Mata Hari and took off all her clothes. And dance? Oh, did she dance!

Her nude performances were greeted with standing ovations throughout Europe. The world simply hadn’t seen such a brazen performer before. Or maybe they just hadn’t seen so much of a brazen performer before. She was tall, dark-skinned and her Hindu-inspired dances blended the erotic with the exotic, giving rise to men’s hopes and ambitions wherever she performed. Some critics compared her to Isadora Duncan.

Others were contemptuous, calling her an exotic dancer who couldn’t dance.

Powerful and wealthy men could not get enough of her. She was a decidedly unrepentant prostitute, in high demand with ambassadors, judges, musicians, artists, princes, composers, diplomats, bankers, ministers, monks and possibly even a pope. She amassed a huge fortune from men willing to pay a small fortune for the particular flavors of her favor.

Her liaison with the Berlin Chief of Police proved to be her undoing when he reputedly recruited her to join the German Secret Service just as World War I began. As conflict rapidly spread halfway around the world, she continued to perform on the great stages of Europe, supposedly easing intelligence from the diplomats and politicians she bedded. Some versions of her story claim that she was responsible for the deaths of 10,000 French soldiers.

Early on, French intelligence suspected her of spying but without evidence they settled on deportation. Practiced at getting her way with men, she convinced them of her loyalty and showed it by offering to spy for the Allies. It’s said that while conducting low-level spying in occupied territory, she continued to provide high-level secrets to Berlin, collecting money from both sides for her efforts.

One story goes that she continued to raise her prices along with her bloomers, but as the tide turned against Germany, her handlers no longer cared to meet her extravagant demands and decided to cut their losses. They gave her cables to transmit to Berlin in a code that the Germans knew the French had already cracked. The Germans paid her with a check and informed the French who apprehended her in Paris with the check still in her possession.

In the backdrop of her trial in July of 1917, the Allies and France were war-weary and German victory appeared inevitable. A strong defeatist movement was gathering momentum and prominent French politicians had opened dialogue with the Germans. Spy-mania was rampant in every government office. Her trial lasted two days and when the death sentence was read she murmured, “It’s impossible, it’s impossible.”

There are other versions of her story. It’s also alleged she was simply a world-class prostitute who enjoyed a life being paid by wealthy and powerful men to tell them just what they wanted to hear. The court where she was tried had a near-perfect conviction record. Her prosecutors, outraged at her flamboyant immorality, flaunted their misconduct.

Her execution by firing squad was carried out on July 25th. She refused a blindfold and as the sabre fell, she drew herself up to her full 5’-10” and blew a kiss to the soldiers.

Was she a spy? Growing evidence says maybe not. Sometimes a dance is just a dance.

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