Syrian princess, Egyptian singer, British spy and Nazi double-agent - Asmahan was an alluring figure in the Middle East during the 1930s and 40s.
Born Amal al-Atrash into a prominent Syrian family, Asmahan's father was an Ottoman official in Turkey during WWI.
Her parents, both members of the Druze religion, fled Turkey in 1918 after the French and British invaded and occupied the Ottoman Empire's territories.
Supposedly, Asmahan was born on the ship that carried the family to Beirut from Turkey.
When they returned to Syria, Asmahan's father moved the family to his ancestral homeland in the south of the country.
Tensions between the Al-Atrash clan and the French government turned violent in 1921 after a man who tried to assassinate the French governor of Syria was aided in his escape attempt by the Al-Atrash patriarch.
Asmahan's mother, Alia, who felt her marriage was also on the rocks, decided to separate from her husband and move with her children to the relative safety of Egypt.
Despite her husband's objections, Alia left as the French stepped up their violent campaign against the Al-Atrash.
|Asmahan (far right) with her mother and two brothers shortly |
after arriving in Egypt.
When they arrived in Egypt, Asmahan's mother was forced to moveher children into a humble Cairo apartment.
Well to do relatives in Egypt avoided contact with Alia because they felt she had disgraced the family by leaving her husband.
Though she was of upper class origins, Asmahan's mother supported her children by working as a seamstress and by singing at parties.
However, her aristocratic background allowed Alia to send her children to a prestigious French Catholic school. Eventually, the family made enough money to live comfortably again. Their fortunes improved dramatically after Asmahan's older brother, Farid, began to succeed as a musician.
|Asmahan as a teenager.|
Inspired by their mother's singing, Asmahan's older brother helped to pave the way for his own sister's rapid rise to fame.
At fourteen Asmahan began performing in concerts. By sixteen she had recorded her first album. Gaining notoriety on Egyptian radio, many of her songs were written by Farid who she would remain close to throughout her life.
Asmahan also transitioned well into the Egyptian film scene. She became one of the country's most prominent movie stars, gaining fame and notoriety across the Middle East for her beauty, charm and singing talent.
Despite or perhaps because of her great success, Asmahan received resentment and criticism from her extended family in Syria who pressured her into marrying her cousin, an powerful amir, in 1933.
Returning with her new husband to Syria for the first time since her childhood, the Egyptian star's liberal, more Western lifestyle clashed with her husband's conservative worldview.
She refused to change and fit the role of a traditional Druze wife and began to spend more and more time away from her husband's mountain palace.
Her rocky marriage to her cousin ended in divorce in 1938 (they would marry and divorce one more time) and Asmahan decided to move on.
Free from her marriage, Asmahan made a new home for herself at the luxurious King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
|The King David Hotel in Jerusalem.|
It was here, at what was regarded as the headquarters of British rule in the Middle East, that Asmahan developed a reputation as a fem-fatale.
Using her singing, charm and extraordinary good looks, 'The Lady of the Lobbies' was able to beguile prominent British and Arab officials alike who stayed at or worked out of the hotel.
The life of many parties, she was regarded as an 'agent of influence' who could win and trade favors from a variety of power players. Many important men were smitten with her .
General Edward Spears, a British official, once described Asmahan as: '...one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. Her eyes were immense, green as the sea you cross to paradise. She bowled over British officers with the speed and accuracy of a machine gun.'
There was also a popular joke at the hotel that it was impossible to be alone in her room as you were likely to find one general in her bed, another under her bed and one more dangling from the chandelier.
Asmahan was also bisexual and had numerous affairs with prominent Jerusalem women. Her female lovers were mainly the wives of her male lovers.
It was this ability to charm and influence important men which would change her life once again in 1939 when war broke out in Europe between Britain and Nazi Germany.
|Hitler in Paris after the Fall of France|