Mata Hari was responsible for 50,000 deaths… or was she?

The story of Mata Hari is one of the best-known – and bizarre – in espionage history

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Hari – real name Gertrud Margarete Zelle – was born to a successful Dutch hatter in 1876. By 1905, she too had found success – as an exotic dancer, earning fame in Paris and beyond for her beauty, and highly risqué act.

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Yet, in 1916, Hari was to earn fame of a very different kind. When a ship she was travelling on docked at Falmouth in Cornwall, she was picked up by the police – who had learned that she had been meeting members of Germany’s security services – and taken to London for questioning. Hari denied spying for Germany but instead claimed she was working for French security services.

The British released Hari, but in 1917 she was rearrested – this time by the French. Now there would be no release. She was put on trial, accused of spying for Germany and causing the deaths of 50,000 French troops, and executed. But was she guilty?

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Despite claims that she was the victim of an over-hysterical French media, German documents suggest that she spied for Berlin. Perhaps she was a double-agent. What can’t be argued is that her life and death have gone down in legend.