Mata Hari (Margaretha G. Zelle) Identity Papers

A recent TV documentation about this extraordinary woman inspired me to write this article.

Mata Hari margarethaMata Hari, real name Margaretha Geertuida Zelle, was born in 1876 in Leeuwarden, Holland. At 19, she married a Dutch naval officer, Captain Mc Leod, and followed him to the Island of Java, where he was posted.

On her return and after her divorce, she moved to Paris in 1903. There, she staged herself in shows combining oriental dance and stripping, under the pseudonym of Mata Hari (Eyes of the dawn in Malay). Her success allows her to perform throughout Europe, enrich herself, and meet many artists, bankers, and officers of all nationalities.

When the war came and faced with the cancellation of several contracts, Mata Hari did not hesitate to take risks to maintain her lifestyle. Cosmopolitan and multilingual, it interests the German and French secret services, with which she engages impulsively without recognizing the danger. Mata Hari margaretha

She was arrested on February 13, 1917. Judged guilty of intelligence with the enemy by the 3rd Council of War and was shot in Vincennes on October 15, 1917.

The Defense Historical Service has several identity documents that belonged to Mata Hari. During her hotel room search, they were seized on February 13, 1917, along with twelve other lots placed under seal.

These official documents overwhelm the legend that Mata Hari has carefully constructed through interviews with journalists, to whom she told of being Indian born to a Bayadere mother. Born August 7, 1876, in Leeuwarden, a small town in the north of the Netherlands, her beauty was genuine. She was 1,75 cm tall, very dark-haired with brownish green eyes; the photographs show her very elegant, wearing a hat and jewelry, carefully combed and luxuriously dressed. Mata Hari margaretha

Among these documents is the laissez-passer (foreigner’s book), which was issued to her by Georges Ladoux, head of the French counter-espionage service, to allow her to join Vittel Vadime Masslof, Russian captain in the service of France injured in the eye and treated there, which she was head over heels in love with. To obtain this sesame, which had been refused to her for the first time, she would have committed Ladoux to provide information to the French secret services. Or how a simple pass lets you see the spy’s personality, passionate, whole, and not devoid of a certain daring.

Mata Hari margaretha

As early as 1916, the intelligence centralization section was convinced that Mata Hari was indeed Agent H21, in Germany’s pay, and had her monitored. Mata Hari’s procedural file contains numerous surveillance reports, written by two police officers, who sometimes sign their reports: Tarlet and Monier. This surveillance, which began on June 18, 1916, continued irregularly until January 1917, sometimes daily. Mata Hari margaretha

Very precise, these reports make it possible to follow the suspect from hour to hour, most of the time from one store to another. As she mentions in the letter of January 15, 1917, reproduced here and coming from the intelligence services (GR 7 NN 2 3298), Mata Hari knows she is being watched, and those who watch her know that she knows it. We can read this in a report of January 13, 1917: “We mention that this woman surrounds herself with great precautions, she turns around frequently and, when she crosses a road, under the pretext of seeing if he has not come from. car, she glances around. ” Mata Hari margaretha

Her correspondence is also taken at the concierge of the hotels where she lodges, and all her telephone calls and meetings are recorded. Mata Hari had an intense letter-writing activity; the file made up by the intelligence services contains dozens of letters signed by his hand, in which Mata Hari sometimes gives himself straight. They are written in perfect French because Mata Hari had learned this language from elementary school. Mata Hari margaretha

During her hotel room search on February 13, 1917, twelve batches of objects or documents were taken and placed under seal, after which she was arrested. Among these lots, correspondence, photographs, books, objects, banknotes, toiletries, and all business cards in his possession will serve as a basis for establishing the list of witnesses.

Upon her arrest, Mata Hari was questioned and imprisoned in Saint-Lazare prison, where she remained until the trial.

After several interrogations and testimonies gathered by Pierre Bouchardon, captain-rapporteur at the 3rd War Council, the trial began on July 24, 1917, took place behind closed doors, and lasted only two days.

On July 25, the 3rd Permanent War Council declares the named Zelle, Marguerite Gertrude, divorced from Mr. McLeod, guilty of espionage and intelligence with the enemy to promote his enterprises and condemns her to the penalty of death. Mata Hari margaretha

The same day, Mata Hari appealed for revision. This appeal was rejected on August 17 by the Permanent Review Council. President Raymond Poincaré has refused his request for a pardon; his execution order was drawn up on October 14, 1917, by the Military Governor of Paris. She was shot the next morning at dawn, at the Vincennes shooting range.

That Mata Hari entered the service of the German secret service is today undisputed. In 1999 the documents of the British secret service MI5 on Mata Hari were made available to the public. These documents show that Mata Hari did not reveal any essential information to the Germans. In 2017 – 100 years after her death, the French government opened its archive on her case – and the French concluded she was a spy!


Exhibition marks 100 years since the Dutch dancer’s execution (Video)

Pictures and text are extracts from the files of the Council of War (GR 9 J 1231 and GR 9 J 873-7) and the file of the intelligence service (GR 7 NN 2 3298) stored at the French Defence Historical Service (SHD).

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  1. This is a wonderful and fascinating article about the life of an intriguing woman. Many thanks Tom – and well done!

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