Mata Hari exposed in Monte Carlo casino

 

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Has Mata Hari been exposed in Monte Carlo? It is a story that you hardly ever hear, because only a few know. Books have been written about Mata Hari, I discovered when I looked into her life last year. You cannot think of a language or her life story is recorded in it. Sometimes even, as in the Netherlands, in multiple books. But the story of her unmasking, the impulse towards her arrest, is not in those biographies. That's why I'm telling it here.

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle

Everyone is probably familiar with the life story of Mata Hari. At least in broad lines. Mata Hari is the story of the Friezin, born in Leeuwarden as Gertrude Zalle, who becomes a dancer. She is also the mistress of several men. All men with high positions or noble titles. She sometimes has several at the same time, but one after the other if you know what I mean.

Her contact with the highly placed men makes her an ideal spy. And that is what she ultimately becomes best known for. Mata Hari is a legend about who, 100 years after her death, still makes books, films and exhibitions.

Mata Hari

Mata Hari at the Musée Guimet

Mata Hari in 1905 during her performances at Musée Guitmet

After her first official performance in 1905 at the Museé Guimet in Paris, she was named Mata Hari. She then performs at various locations. In addition to Paris, Berlin, London and Madrid, she is a welcome guest in the Monte Carlo theater.

Monte Carlo is a place where she likes to stay when she doesn't have to perform. With her well-known appearance, she makes several men go crazy. She regularly goes to the casino. However, she does not gamble. She only wants to be seen and receive information, since she started working as a spy in 1907 under code name H-21.

Monte Carlo early 20th century

Monte Carlo has always been a place where actors, writers, politicians, members of royal families and many other acquaintances showed themselves. This is no different at the start of the First World War. Prince Albert 1 wants Monaco to remain neutral during that war. And France accepts that.

The country is surrounded by France, close to the Italian border and with a port on the Mediterranean Sea. That makes it an ideal location for an international spy nest. And it will be. Secret agents and devious individuals from several European capitals mingle in the beginning of the war between the theater and casino audiences.

France demands a consideration for accepting the neutrality of Monaco. The country with its famous casino and theater should be a place of relaxation for allied officers on leave. Those soldiers make Monaco extra attractive for spies.

Vittel 1915

A few years before the war, British secret agents had suspicions against Mata Hari. They warn their French colleagues, but they ignore that. Mata Hari is popular and she is also the mistress of the French Foreign Minister. At the outbreak of the war, the French were again warned by the British.

The Second Bureau, the French secret service, only became suspicious in the spring of 1915. That starts when Mata Hari asks permission to visit a field hospital in Vittel, to look after one of her male friends. The hospital is very well staffed with nurses and Mata Hari has previously shown that he has no experience, talent or interest in nursing.

Why does she want to go to Vittel, the French wonder. Vittel is at the front. A keen observer can immediately see the preparations that Marshal Joseph Joffre is making for an offensive. The intelligence service is keeping a close eye on Mata Hari since her return to Paris. But in addition to writing letters to family in the Netherlands, she follows her usual routine of performing and visiting men.

Mata Hari in Monte CarloMata Hari is posing

Mata Hari is popular in Monte Carlo. When she comes to the theater, there are posters in the city far in advance. But she also goes to Monaco for her own pleasure. This also happened in the fall of 1916.

She has just closed a period of performances in Madrid. Her performance schedule shows a few days off and she decides to spend it in Monaco. Once there, the theater program appears to be considerably disrupted by the war. Several announced performances have been canceled. The theater and friends convince her to perform on the days off.

Incident in the casino

After one of the performances, Mata Hari goes, as always, to the casino for a drink. One of the new friends she met in those days, the Russian Colonel Suvarsky, is clearly staggering towards her under the influence of alcohol. With a well-filled glass in his hand, he makes an exaggerated bow. Suddenly he throws his glass away, puts his right hand around her waist and presses his mouth to her lips. At the same time, he puts his left band in the top of her dress.

Mata Hari manages to tear herself loose and pushes the Russian away. Then she takes a small gun from her handbag and shoots the officer in his chest. As he falls to the ground, she gives him a few more spades. It is the perfect performance of a furious woman who defends her honor.

Some bystanders bring Suvarsky to the hospital. An emergency operation is being carried out there to save his life. The casino naturally wants to avoid a scandal. They are therefore pleasantly surprised when the police report that there are many eyewitnesses who say that the officer has provoked the attack. The incident will have no consequences. Mata Hari leaves Monaco quickly the next day.

The unmasking

What really happened? Colonel Suvarsky has been assigned as liaison officer to the allied forces in France. He has the task of exposing the suspected spy Mata Hari. The fall that has been made starts in Madrid. Hence, some employees leak information that Suvarsky has secret documents with them about Russian exiles. The information in it is valuable for the Germans, because it can cause unrest among the Russian troops.

The assumption is that when Mata Hari is a spy, she will undoubtedly be instructed to steal the papers from Suvarsky.

Shortly after her arrival in Monte Carlo, the Colonel emphatically presented himself as a great admirer. And that afternoon he invited Mata Hari to his villa. He manages to stretch her departure to the limit that evening. As a result, she must hurry to be in the theater on time for her nightly performance. Immediately after her departure, the colonel checks his files and discovers that the reports containing the leaked information have been stolen.

Solo action and arrest

At that moment he must warn the other officers. Suvarsky, however, continues on his own. Familiar with Mata Hari's habit of having a drink at the casino after her performance, he waits for her. He suspects she has not had time to get rid of the incriminating documents. At most she could have hidden it in her bra. Instead of immediately exposing her, he ends up in the hospital.

Mata Hari on police photo

Mata Hari on police photo after her arrest

However, the agents of the Second Office are now convinced. From her departure from Monaco they keep an eye on her. In the first instance in the hope that she will lead them to other members of her espionage network.

At one point they intercept a coded message from Mata Hari to Lieutenant Von Krohn, the German military attaché in Madrid. She asks for a payment for H-21 to be transferred to an account in Paris. Shortly after receiving the money, Mata Hari was arrested on February 13, 1917 in her hotel room in Paris.

Sources:

  • The Big Wheel, a book by George W Herald and Edward D Radin from 1963
  • Dramatic and musical criticisms by Philip Hale, a book with newspaper reports from, among others, 1925
  • Saint cinema, a book from 1973 with memories of films between 1929-1970 by Herman G. Weinberg
  • the complete police file of Mata Hari was put online a century after her death. It contains official reports, transcripts of interrogations, intercepted letters and more.
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