The Family history of the von Trapps
The history of the world famous family von Trapp tells us one important thing: fate may strike heavy on a family, but the trust in God and the strong power of unity of one blood will overcome all.
It starts with the very beginning – when Baron Georg Freiherr von Trapp, Captain of the Austrian-Hungarian marine, married Agathe Whitehead in 1911. He was a highly decorated Commander of the Emperors Submarine Fleet, and his spouse’s father was the inventor and producer of the torpedo, John Whitehead. Soon the First World War threatened the harbour of Pula, where the family lived, so Agathe moved to the summer house of the family, the Erlhof in Zell am See, Salzburg. Here, the family grew to the number of six children, with Agathe, Rupert, Maria, Werner, Hedwig and Johanna. Soon after the birth of Martina, Agathe died of scarlet fever at the age of 31.
This was a terrible fate for Georg since he was already depressed that he had lost his beloved profession – the Austrian navy ceased to exist when Austria lost his Mediterranean provinces after the war. Now he was alone with his seven children. Two years after the Villa Trapp was acquired, Maria joined the family as a private teacher – and stayed for a lifetime. Maria, an orphan from Vienna, had just joined the Benedictine Order of Nonnberg, as a novice, when the superior nun sent her to the Trapp family
Maria knew that the Baron was planning to remarry princess Yvonne, a distant cousin to his former wife, but was frantic when he asked her to spend the rest of her life with him. Georg and Maria married in Nonnberg in 1927.
Maria gave birth to two more children, Eleonore and Rosemarie. All of a sudden their bank went bankrupt as a result of the World Economy crisis and all the family savings were gone.
In the same way, “God opened a window”: The opera diva Lotte Lehman heard the children singing in the park and announced them for the Singers Competition at the Salzburg Festival. Franz Wasner, a young priest, held the Easter mass at the Villa’s chapel and discovered the talents of the Family Choir. The “Trapp Chamber Choir” travelled all over Europe with arrangements of Wasner, initially suspiciously watched by Georg von Trapp, who was restrained by his aristocratic bounds to „sing in public“. For Austria the terrible year of 1938 ended with Hitler’s takeover. For the Trapps it ended with a Concert in New York.
As true Austrians and disgusted from the euphoria many Austrian citizens brought to Hitler, the Trapps left Salzburg for their second US concert trip and never returned home again. Till the end of 1956 when the choir finally dissolved they performed more than 19 concert tours throughout America.
The Trapps found their new home in Stowe, Vermont, a countryside resembling very much their old home in Salzburg. They built a lodge there. Baron Trapp died in 1947. Maria took over the lead of the family and founded the „Trapp Family Austrian Relief Inc.“, supported by US Major General Harry Collins to help impoverished families in Salzburg.