Was Mata Hari a Jewess?

In chapter five of Daughters of the Dance, Mata Hari is referenced in connection with when Madame Dara was introduced into the high society of the elite of Panama in Colon. Mata Hari was her stage name, a Malayan term that means “eye of the day (sun).”

The well-produced 2017 Russian-Portuguese television series, “Mata Hari,” portrays her as a Roman Catholic. Be that as it may, her father was a Zelle, a very Jewish surname. Unfortunately, in the novel, the surname is misspelled; erratum “Zeele”, a likely missed error in print. (Other derivatives of the root name Zell are Zeller, Zellner, Zellerbach, Zelnick, and Zellniker.)

Mata Hari was born in Leenwarden, The Netherlands, on August 7, 1876, as Margaretha Gaertruida Zelle under the sign of Leo. Her father was Adam Zelle, and her mother was Antije van der Meulen. Though Adam was a haberdasher by trade, he made investments in oil that allowed his family of three sons and first-born daughter to live lavishly. This may explain why Margaretha had expensive tastes, for at an early life, she was known to be flamboyant. However, the Zelle’s world changed drastically when ther family went bankrupt in 1889 and her mother died two years later. She was sent to live with her godfather Mr. Visser (another Jewish surname) in Sneek where she, at 15, was sent to a preparatory school specializing in teacher training. A scandal broke out when the headmaster of the school obsessed over her, causing Margaretha to live then with her uncle, Mr. Taconis, in The Hague. (The origin of the name Taconis is unknown, but he was married to a Faber, another Jewish surname. There were other Jewish surnames associated with the family tree–De Roos and Rosendaal).

At age 18, Margaretha responded to a newspaper ad of matrimony from officer Rudolph “John”  MacLeod who was stationed in the Dutch East Indies (currently, Indonesia). After eleven years of marriage—seven years in Java and the latter four years in The Netherlands—the MacLeod’s went separate ways.

Margaretha moved to Paris where she reinvented herself, drawing from the Javanese dances she had learned from one of her servants. She arrived at the height of the Paris Belle Èpoch (1880-1914) when all things “oriental” were very fashionable in Paris, allowing her exotic looks to add to her mystique. She danced at various venues—private salons, later at large theaters (ballets and operas), and large parties. She also traveled extensively. She was known for her number of lovers (often military men from various countries) who were willing to provide her financial support in exchange for her company.

In the ending of the Russian-Portuguese TV series, there is another detail about her that needs adjusting: her arrest–the currently known version of Mata Hari’s real-life story is that she was actually arrested in England by Scotland Yard at the behest of the French police. She was not kidnapped by the French police in Spain. This detail was only declassified in 2017, a century after her death and after the production of the TV series was completed.

The notion that Margaretha Zelle was an exotic dancer who used her seductive powers to extract military secrets is also false. She was years past her prime as a dancer by the time she agreed to serve as a spy for France—and possibly for Germany—while maintaining her innocence up until the time of her death.

One of Mata Hari’s surviving quotes is, “Death is nothing, nor life either, for that matter. To die, to sleep, to pass into nothingness, what does it matter? Everything is an illusion.” She must have gone bravely before the French execution squad.

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