Interview with Pablo Carballo, Madrid, Sunday 28th October 2001
“Whatever she did, Mata Hari shouldn’t have been executed”
There is probably no more an enigmatic, unknown and seductive a character during the 20th century than Mata Hari. Born in Leeuwarden (Netherlands) in 1876, the most powerful men in Europe fell in love with her eastern dances and exotic beauty. In 1917, she was tried and convicted by the Allies on charges of giving information to the Germans. Her figure has recently gained relevance since some of her descendants and the foundation which takes her name have requested to reopen the case. In addition Mata Hari: Eye of the Dawn will be published by the British writer, Richard Skinner, a story based on the life of Mata Hari, to which Skinner has added some non-fiction chapters.
PC: Mata Hari is probably the most famous spy in history. How real is her legend in your opinion?
RS: Her life is largely unknown because she was, apparently, a spy, so it’s difficult to confirm what she did or did not do. I think she did some of the things for which she was accused, but, I believe she was mistreated by the French.
PC: Was her execution unfair?
RS: Whatever she did, she didn’t deserve to be executed. The war was being lost by the Allies at that moment (October 1917) and, because of her reputation, they made an example of her regarding what would happen to spies if caught. It is true that she received money in exchange for information, although this information didn’t end up being very relevant. She was certainly a very bad spy.
PC: So, Would you support the petition to reopen her case?
RS: Absolutely. I think it was an unfair sentence.
PC: She was a very passionate woman and with an intense sexual life. And that made her legend bigger.
RS: Yes, no doubt about that. People say she wasn’t very good-looking but she seems to have been very sexually attractive.
PC: Mata Hari visited Madrid, Barcelona and San Sebastian. What was her opinion of Spain?
RS: She liked it a lot. During World War I, she spent a lot of time in Spain since it was neutral. She tried to dance there by the end of her career but she didn’t make it.
PC: And here in Spain she was arrested on charges of spying.
RS: Yes, it’s the most convincing scenario that she must have been a spy. At the Ritz Hotel, which by that time used to accommodate ambassadors, she met the attachés to the German Embassy in Madrid. In Paris, a cheque for 15,000 pesetas was waiting for her and, apparently, it was a payment made by the Germans. When she went to Paris to get paid in 1917, she was arrested. This is the best evidence of her activities as a spy.
PC: What is the reason she became interested in the espionage world?
RS: She made a lot of money as a dancer and became accustomed to a high standard of living. Afterwards, her reputation started to decline. I think she got involved in espionage in order to maintain that lifestyle. The interrogation of Mata Hari carried out by Scotland Yard was funny because it emphasises how useless she was as a spy.
PC: However, she liked to be involved in power circles too.
RS: Yes, it was said many times that she loved men in uniform. She would prefer to sleep with a poor officer than a rich banker.
PC: What would have happened to Mata Hari if World War I hadn’t broken out?
RS: I think she would have become a retired opera diva, someone who would live out her memories with sadness. She had already started feeling that way before her arrest. She would collect her pictures and clippings in a book and revive her glory days.