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Between the World Wars: Articles from the Syracuse Union, available through the New York State Newspaper Project


December 18, 1925 page 11, col. 1-2

A Romantic Life

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The Rise and Fall of the Executed Spy, Mata Hari.

On October 15, 1917 in the Bois de Vincennes near Paris, at the same post where so many others saw the last light of day, the famous Indian dancer Mata Hari took twelve bullets to the chest and sunk to the ground in a lifeless mass. Did this dancer who was celebrated by the Parisian leisure class deserve such a gruesome death? Even if charges were based on the accusation of espionage during wartime was, she supposed to pay for her crime in such a dreadful manner?

The trial, which the League for Human Rights had established to protect the innocent from punishment or execution, had produced enough material which proved how little the life and reputation of the individual mattered at a time when millions were being sent into battle. And this was when former Minister Malvy had been a longtime friend and protector of the dancer Mata Hari. Incidentally, it was proven that this was a false accusation. Now, once again, we open up the chapter of the "Dancer - Spy" whereby a mass of previously unknown facts will be served up.

For a time Mata Hari was the most celebrated dancer in Paris. Her entrance into metropolitan society was a grand sensation. She appeared for the first time at a soirée which was arranged by a well-known female opera singer for a circle of chosen friends. The appearance of the lovely lady was a fascination. Soon she became the main attraction at charitable functions. Her appearance guaranteed that the event would be a success. After the salons came the clubs and the theater followed by appearances in Nice and invitations to America. Mata Hari found many imitators and there were scarcely any cabarets, revues or local nightclubs without a naked dancer. The authorities had to intervene. They made examples of an entire series of dancers, who were arrested and imprisoned. Only Mata Hari remained untouched, which people ascribed to the protection of very high-placed persons. However Mata Hari's fame began to wane after a few years. She retired to a modest villa near the Bois de Boulogne where, according to later accusers, she began to weave her network of spies.

Once she was recognized by an American journalist while on a steamship between Egypt and Marseille. After that she no longer wished to hear about her sensational past. According to the journalist she openly spoke German with someone with an eastern accent and told of her decision to settle down on the banks of the Spree. Mata Hari's given name was Marguerite Gertrude Zelle. She was the daughter of a Dutch planter and a Javanese woman on the Island of Java in 1876. As a child she lost her father. Her mother decided to educate her daughter to become a religious dancer at a temple in Burma.*

*[Translator's Note: This description is very different from that of the Wikipedia Article.]

Mata Hari was fourteen years old when an officer in the British Army, Campbell MacLeod saw her and immediately fell in love. He persuaded her to leave the temple and go away with him. Campbell, who came from a respected Scottish family, settled with his wife in India where they had two children, one son and one daughter. One day the boy suddenly died under mysterious circumstances. The mother thought that this was an act of revenge perpetrated by an Indian servant so she shot him right there on the spot. Her husband was away at the time. When he returned he found that his wife was no longer there. She had fled from prosecution by the authorities. Eventually he found her in Paris, where she lived as the dancer Mata Hari, which means "The Eye of the Morning." As a lover she had taken a high-ranking German officer. Lord Campbell returned to Scotland with his daughter, where he died shortly before the war. As Mata Hari Lady Campbell advanced quickly until she ended up at the post.

She was accused of setting up a spy network under the direction of a senior German officer. Under his guidance she supposedly lured in a series of highly placed civilian and military personnel in order to solicit from them very important information. Currently in France there is a never before revealed radio message from Nauen whereby Germany protested against the death sentence. From the entire trial only the indictment of Mata Hari was published. Every tribunal that renders a death verdict under such conditions commits legally sanctioned murder.

The only request for pardon for Mata Hari came from the Dutch ambassador to Paris. A Russian officer named Mazaw Marzach did everything he could to save her. When he could not succeed he hid himself at the Miraflores Monastery. Later it was discovered that this man was not Russian but rather a French officer named Pierre Montessac, whose successes in the Parisian and London salons were the talk of the town and whose excursions in the Bois de Boulogne and Hyde Park garnered the attention of all.

As Mata Hari awoke to her fateful last day she dressed simply but elegantly. She wore a light gray, striped silk dress edged with fur at the collar and cuffs plus a large, blue hat with ribbons. A string of pearls hung from her neck. She climbed into the car and only the presence of a pastor, a nurse, and two secret policemen indicated that she was not going on her customary promanade in the Bois de Vincennes. At the place of execution she calmly stepped out of the car and walked to the grave that had been prepared for her. She kissed the nurse, said a few words to the defense attorney, then stretched her hands out to the gendarmes so they could be bound. After a few seconds twelve shots were fired and Mata Hari fell face first to the ground.

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How A Spy Bureau Is Organized.

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The military spy service grew significantly during the war, but even today it continues to exist undiminished because the armaments of the military forces continue to operate. Methods of espionage were implemented shortly before the war at a feverish pace in expectation of global conflagration. Fall des Generalstabschef Redl [The Case of General Staff Chief Redl] is a thrilling book written by Egon Erwin Kische and published by Schmiede Publishing in Berlin. It investigates the dramatic events in the notorious Austrian espionage case in which a high-ranking officer, who for a long time was at the head of an espionage bureau and who committed treason and then suicide to cover up the affair. Redl had masterfully established the Viennese espionage bureau: "The Bureau was a modern organization. Each secret visitor was photographed in profile and facing forward without being aware of it. Two pictures were hung from the walls with openings for the the lenses of cameras, which were operated in the neighboring room. Fingerprints were also taken from the visitors without their knowledge. The officer would use the telephone and hand the visitor a cigarette case or a box of chocolates coated with an invisible layer of red lead. Lighters and ashtrays used by the visitor were also coated. If the visitor declined the cigarettes or the bonbons the officer would be called out of the room. If the guest was inclined to espionage he would certainly pick up the document laying on the table and marked "Secret! For Reserved Inspection." Naturally this document was sprinkled with soap powder. In a little chest in the wall, which one would assume was a medicine cabinet, a sound tube was installed leading back to the neighboring room where a stenographer could listen in. A metal spike was also set in motion to record the conversation onto a phonograph record. Any secret book or document could be examined within a few seconds by projecting it on the wall, photographing it sideways, then reinserting and returning it quickly so it looked as though it had not been touched. Albums and maps were acquired with photographs, hand written notes and mechanized handwriting analyses of all people suspected of espionage all over Europe, especially at centralized spy zones in Brussels, Zurich and Lausanne."

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Translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks