A recent TV documentation about this extraordinary woman inspired me to write this article.
Mata 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.
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!
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).
FAQ Passport History
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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?
The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...
2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?
Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...
3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?
"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...
4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?
Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...
5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?
Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.
6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?
7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?
During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...
8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?
Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.
9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?
Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.
10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?
A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉
11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?
First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...
Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.
Question? Contact me...