Margaretha said she wasn’t sure why the authorities were questioning her. The Dutch woman found herself being interrogated by the French military police. They wanted to know her movements in the previous weeks.
To say that war time is stressful is to state the obvious. Governments during war often take away liberties in the name of national security because of the fear they feel about enemies being behind every door. That seems to have been the case here. The French authorities were looking for a scapegoat.
Margaretha felt she was being unjustly accused of…well, she wasn’t sure exactly what the French were accusing her of. Her interrogators kept asking about her past. Her family had money when she was growing up, so that allowed her some perks that most people in the late 19th and early 20th Century didn’t have–she could travel, she rubbed elbows with other wealthy people, and she knew people from many countries. It was this last thing that the French police wanted to know. Who were her friends in Germany? Britain? Belgium? To Margaretha, it was all confusing. What did who she knew have to do with anything?
She had spent some years in the Dutch East Indies (another thing that the French police wanted to know about, by the way), and it was there her husband, a rich and spoiled Scottish man, began to beat her and cheat on her with others. It was there that she had two children, a boy and a girl. There, too, her son got sick and died. Returning to The Netherlands, the couple broke up, and Margaretha won custody of her daughter. Her husband didn’t give her any money, so she turned to performance art–dancing and modeling–for a living. She had learned a bit about exotic dancing while in the Indies, and she took on a persona of someone from Asia for her act.
Famous people came to see her perform her dances. By the late 1910s, she had became famous and wealthy from her work. Wealthy men vied for her attention (and lavished her with even more money). By this time, however, Margaretha was in her late 30s. Her youth and her performance days were over, and she had become something else to make money–a courtesan. She parlayed her notoriety as a performer on stage into a performer in the bedchamber, and she had “clients” in almost every nation in Europe. Important people in Germany, France, and Britain had shared her bed by this time. The inquisitors were very curious about this last point.
We know how these things go; the friend of my enemy is my enemy. Here was a woman who knew too much, and there were secrets that she might have had that simply could not be allowed to see the light of day. She was questioned for hours and then accused of being a traitor to the Allies. She is supposed to have said, “A harlot? Absolutely. A traitor? Never!” She was put on trial more, it seemed, for being a woman of questionable morals than for knowing any secrets that might hurt or embarrass the Allied Powers. At dawn, on October 15, 1917, twelve French soldiers shot her for being a spy for the Germans. It is unclear to this day what her crime actually was. She maintained both her innocence and her flirtatious nature the entire time.
In fact, right before the order to shoot was given, Mata Hari blew a kiss to the firing squad.