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Dancer, Spy, Double Agent: The Mystery of Mata Hari

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Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, better known by her stage name Mata Hari, was a Dutch exotic dancer, who was convicted of spying for Germany during WW I and executed in France in 1917.

Born on 7 August 1876 in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, Margaretha Zelle had quite a happy childhood. Since her father was a successful businessman she received a good education. 

Margaretha married Dutch Colonial Army Captain Rudolf MacLeod in 1895 and moved to Indonesia with him. She joined a local dance company there and revealed her artistic name of Mata Hari, which literally means 'eye of the day' in the Malay language. 

After divorcing her husband, Zelle moved to Paris and worked as a circus horse rider and posed as an artist's model to earn a living. By 1905, she began her career as an exotic dancer.

During WW I, she had an affair with Russian pilot Vadim Maslov, who was part of the Russian forces sent to the Western Front. When he was badly wounded during a fight with the Germans, Zelle had to ask for permission to visit Maslov at the hospital near the front. As a citizen of a neutral country, she would not be allowed to stay near the front. But Zelle was contacted by the French intelligence agency who told her that she could see Maslov only if she agreed to spy on the Germans. 

In February 1917 Mata Hari was arrested in Paris and accused of spying for Germany - without any definite evidence against her. In October 1917 she was executed by firing squad.  

© Photo : Public domainDancer Mata Hari in 1906
Dancer Mata Hari in 1906 - Sputnik International
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Dancer Mata Hari in 1906
© Photo : Public domainMargaretha Zelle, better known by her stage name Mata Hari, 1895
Margaretha Zelle, better known by her stage name Mata Hari, 1895 - Sputnik International
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Margaretha Zelle, better known by her stage name Mata Hari, 1895
© Photo : Public domainMata Hari, Paris, Museum Guimet, 1905
Mata Hari, Paris, Museum Guimet, 1905 - Sputnik International
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Mata Hari, Paris, Museum Guimet, 1905
© Photo : Public domainMata Hari in 1910
Mata Hari in 1910 - Sputnik International
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Mata Hari in 1910
© Photo : Public domainMata Hari circa 1906.
Mata Hari circa 1906. - Sputnik International
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Mata Hari circa 1906.
© Photo : Public domainMargaretha Zelle and her husband Rudolph MacLeod, 1897. They had two children together, however, their marriage was not happy and they divorced in 1902.
Margaretha Zelle and her husband Rudolph MacLeod, 1897. They had two children together, however, their marriage was not happy and they divorced in 1902. - Sputnik International
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Margaretha Zelle and her husband Rudolph MacLeod, 1897. They had two children together, however, their marriage was not happy and they divorced in 1902.
© Photo : Public domainDancer Mata Hari, 1910
Dancer Mata Hari, 1910 - Sputnik International
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Dancer Mata Hari, 1910
© Photo : Public domainDancer Mata Hari, 1906
Dancer Mata Hari, 1906 - Sputnik International
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Dancer Mata Hari, 1906
© Photo : AnonymousDancer Mata Hari during a performance in 1905
Dancer Mata Hari during a performance in 1905 - Sputnik International
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Dancer Mata Hari during a performance in 1905
© Photo : Public domain/P. BoyerDancer Mata Hari in 1905
Dancer Mata Hari in 1905 - Sputnik International
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Dancer Mata Hari in 1905
© Photo : Public domainMata Hari danced in a ballet scene in the third act of 'Antar' staged by Chekri-Ganem to the music by Rimsky-Korsakov, 1910
Mata Hari danced in a ballet scene in the third act of 'Antar' staged by Chekri-Ganem to the music by Rimsky-Korsakov, 1910 - Sputnik International
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Mata Hari danced in a ballet scene in the third act of 'Antar' staged by Chekri-Ganem to the music by Rimsky-Korsakov, 1910
© Photo : Public domainMata Hari on the day of her arrest, 13 February 1917
Mata Hari on the day of her arrest, 13 February 1917 - Sputnik International
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Mata Hari on the day of her arrest, 13 February 1917
© Photo : Public domainExecution of Mata Hari by firing squad. Almost certainly a reconstruction for the 1920 film.
Execution of Mata Hari by firing squad. Almost certainly a reconstruction for the 1920 film. - Sputnik International
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Execution of Mata Hari by firing squad. Almost certainly a reconstruction for the 1920 film.
© Photo : Public domainMata Hari comme "Venus" a la Scala 1911/1912.
Mata Hari comme Venus a la Scala 1911/1912. - Sputnik International
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Mata Hari comme "Venus" a la Scala 1911/1912.
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Michel van Soest / Leeuwarden, beeld van Mata HariSculpture of Mata Hari in Leeuwarden
Sculpture of Mata Hari in Leeuwarden - Sputnik International
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Sculpture of Mata Hari in Leeuwarden
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