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Mata Hari, The Legend- History of 25th July

Mata Hari, The Legend- History of 25th July

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Mata Hari

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, better known by her stage name Mata Hari, was a Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan who was executed by firing squad in France in 1917 for espionage during World War I. On July 25, 1919, history witnessed the trial of Mata Hari. The trial was held in a closed courtroom, and the evidence against her was largely circumstantial. However, the prosecution was able to convince the jury that Mata Hari was a German spy, and she was sentenced to death.

Long before the glamorous Dita Von Tease would tease and enchant the audience with her dance, there was another. A woman who captivated the bell époque era with her movements and her exotic dance forms, she was MATA HARI. On this day 25th July of 1919, history witnessed the trial of Mata Hari, who was sentenced to be executed in France on the account of being espionage during World War I.

As Journalist Harry Wales recounts – the priest performed the last rite with the condemned woman, a French officer approached, carrying a white cloth. “The blindfold,” he whispered to the nuns who stood there and handed it to them. “Must I wear that?” asked Mata Hari, turning to her lawyer, as her eyes glimpsed the blindfold. “If Madame prefers not, it makes no difference,” replied the officer, hurriedly turning away.

Mata Hari was not bound and she was not blindfolded. She stood gazing steadfastly at her dead.

But how did it all come to this?

Once upon a time, Margaretha Geertruida was born under the sign of Leo August 7 1876. The Dutch-born Woman was married to an Army captain Rudolf John MacLeod. They moved to the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) as a part of Rudolf’s military assignment. The marriage was marred with infidelity, abuse and financial difficulties. In 1902, Mata Hari left her husband and returned to Europe, Paris was to be her refuge. Now in a dancer guise, she spun a web of intriguing tales along with her delicate art. The Europeans unarmed with knowledge of the so-called “Orient”, their ignorant idea of the “exotic” East and the unknown ritualistic world, would transform this woman into a mysterious priestess. She sparked their imagination with the movement of her hands, the sway of her hips and the erotic movement of her body. Images she conjured on the stage of the unknown east ensnared her audience into a liar she crafted, of an exotic world.

The above account seems to portray a woman of greed, vanity and lust. But if you could find some moment to read about her story and read closely between the lines, you will see a portrait of a resilient woman, emerging above the Lybrand’s of misconception. She bore the scares of abuse, a loving mother torn apart from her daughter, a risk taker and in a world where powerful men played their games, she found herself ensnared as a mere pawn. But above all that she was resolute, caged in a system designed to entrap women and punish anyone who tries to fly. Mata Hari was determined to live, not just as a bystander but as a player and for that she paid her due in the end.

Mata Hari through her fame as a dancer was celebrated by the crème of Parisian society if not the whole of Europe and she made powerful acquaintances and lovers. So Adorned with jewels and furs Mata Hari became a famous courtesan by the eve of the First World War, becoming involved with military officers and politicians in France and Germany. In January 1917, French intelligence agents intercepted radio messages from the German military attaché in Madrid that described the activities of a German spy, whom the French identified as Mata Hari. Although the circumstances of the alleged espionage were unclear, and neither French nor British intelligence could produce definite evidence against her, Mata Hari was arrested in Paris in February 1917.

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So on that faithful day 15 October of 1917, the 41-year-old Mata Hari was executed by the firing squad. Unbound and refusing to be blindfolded, she defiantly blew a kiss to the firing squad and looked straight at the face of death. Journalist Henry Wales who stood witness recounts – She did not die as actors and moving-picture stars would have us believe that people die when they are shot. She did not throw up her hands nor did she plunge straight forward or straight back. Instead, she seemed to collapse. Slowly, inertly, she settled to her knees, her head up always, and without the slightest change of expression on her face. For a fraction of a second, it seemed she tottered there, on her knees, gazing directly at those who had taken her life. Then she fell backwards, bending at the waist, with her legs doubled up beneath her. She lay prone, motionless, with her face turned towards the sky. Story has it the sergeant major supervising the firing squad remarked at the time “By God this lady knows how to die” and perhaps that’s because the lady knew how to live.

Her desires, her struggles, her resilience, they all intertwine. She has her name edged in history, her legend dancing through the mind of countless artists of all sorts captivating them beyond the grave. Mata Hari the eternal dancer.

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