|eorg Johannes Ritter von Trapp was born on April 4, 1880 to August and Hedwig Wepler Ritter von Trapp (1836-1884), and had an older sister, Hedwig (the Austrian artist Hede von Trapp), and a brother Werner, who died in 1915 in World War I.||
born in Zara
He was the head of the famous Austrian singing family that was highly fictionalized in the stage and Hollywood film musical The Sound of Music and which fiction culminated with a totally invented account of how Georg's family left his Nazi-occupied country on Christmas Eve. Georg von Trapp and his family, however, has many true ties with Istria.
Georg was fascinated by submarines and was determined to join the new and still very hazardous submarine service. In 1908 he seized the opportunity to transfer to the newly-formed U-boot-Waffe.Von Trapp went to Fiume where innovations were being made in submarine and torpedo technology at Whitehead and Co. The Austrian navy commissioned him to go there and study their design and construction techniques. Promoted to Lieutenant Commander, he was later offered command of one of the earliest submarines in the Imperial and Royal Navy, the SMU-6 which was launched in 1910, and he commanded it until 1913.
It was at the christening of the SMU-5 in 1909, however, that he met Agathe Whitehead (born in 1890), the granddaughter of Robert Whitehead, the manufacturer of submarines and inventor of the torpedo, and it was Agathe who christened von Trapp's new U-boat. At the party for that event, Agathe played the violin and her mother Agathe Breunner Whitehead played the piano. It was a case of "love at first sight", and Agathe invited Georg to visit her family's summer home at Zell am See, Austria, a chalet named the Erlhof, which had a spectacular view of Mt. Kitzsteinhorn in the Alps. The pair continued seeing each other, attending balls and parties during the social seasons in Pola, Trieste and Fiume, which culminated in their high society wedding on January 10, 1911 (March 1, 1912 is given as the alternate date of the wedding by sources who follow that their first son was born out of wedlock).
It was said of Georg that he had two great loves in his life: the sea and Agathe. Sadly, although he proved himself to be a masterful sailor as well as a devoted husband, he was destined to lose both of these loves. Still, his years of marriage were happy ones. The couple moved to the Trapp villa in Pola (now Pula) where their first child, Ruper Georg von Trapp, was born on November 1, 1911. The second child, Agathe, was born there on March 12, 1913. When Maria Francisca arrived on September 28, 1914, Agathe sent her husband a telegram to inform him of the arrival. Because of the war, however, sending personal telegrams to the military was not permitted, so they had agreed ahead of time on a code. When the baby was born, Agatha sent Georg a telegram telling him that "S.M.S. Maria arrived."
World War I - Submarines in the Mediterranean
At the beginning of 1915, the already famous SMU-21 (Kptlt. Otto Hersing) after refueling at the Adriatic Austrian port of Pola was sent to the Dardanelles to assist in Turkey's defence. Hersing, who had shown so dramatically the U-boats worth as a weapon with the sinking of HMS Pathfinder, again proved to be an extremely skilled commander with spectacular success: On May 25, 1915 SMU-21 sank the battleship HMS Triumph and two days later, the unfortunate British lost another battleship to Hersing, when he sank HMS Majestic. On June 5, 1915, the triumphant SMU-21 reached Constantinople harbour showing the false number U-51 to confuse the spies ashore. For his achievements, Hersing was awarded the Pour le mérite. Following this spectacular start of the campaign was an increased U-boat presence in the Mediterranean, with flotillas being built up at Constantinople, Pola and Cattaro.
They were assisted by the small but exquisite Austrian submarine force operating from Pola. On April 22, 1915, Kptlt. Trapp took command of SMU-5, a very early and primitive submarine, with a crew that was made up of men from all corners of the empire: Austrians, Magyars, Poles, Italians, Czechs and Croats.
The Austrians had already demonstrated their combat readiness when, on the night of April 26-27, 1915 at the mouth of the Adriatic (in the Strait of Otranto in the northern Ionian Sea), the SMU-5 hit the French armoured cruiser Léon Gambetta (12,500 tons) with two torpedoes. It was the first time that a submarine attacked while submerged at night. The French cruiser was sunk within 10 (or 20?) minutes, 684 (or 648?) of its crew of 821 (?) drowned, 137 (?) survived. French cruisers were then withdrawn from Otranto blockade. [note: there is conflicting information and the numbers don't add up]
Later, still at the helm of SMU-5, Captain von Trapp sank the Italian troop transport Principe Umberto which was carrying 2,000 Italian soldiers. On August 5, 1915, the SMU-5 very narrowly escaped its own destruction in a torpedo duel with the Italian submarine Nereide off the Adriatic island of Pelagosa. The Italians fired first but missed, and then a more carefully aimed Austrian torpedo hit its mark, sinking the Italian submarine with all of its crew.
On August 15, 1915, The SMU-5 captured the Greek steamship Celafonia off Durazzo. The SMU-5 itself was mined and sunk on May 16-17, 1917, then salvaged on May 19-24. On June 28, it was raised (?) in the Fasana Channel off Pola.
On October 14, 1915, von Trapp transferred to the SMU-14, formerly known at the French submarine Curie. Completed in 1913 the submarine was sunk by gunfire at Pola on Dec 20, 1914. Raised on Jan 31, 1915, it was renamed SMU-14 on Feb 7, 1915, and commissioned on June 1, 1915 to von Trapp. Lawrence Sondhaus (The Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary 1867-1918, Purdue Univ. Press, 1994) states on page 268: "Lieutenant Trapp received command of the new prize later in 1915, but from the start he lamented its engineering flaws, speculating that his grandmother could have designed a better submarine." Further work on her was necessary until Feb 1917.
During Aug 1917, under von Trapp, the SMU-14 claimed 24,800 tons including the Italian steamer Milazzo (11,480 tons), the largest merchant ship sunk by the Kriegsmarine. After the war the SMU-15 was returned to French Navy and on July 17, 1919 became Curie again. It was in service until 1929; b/u 1930.
In May 1918, von Trapp was promoted to Korvettenkapitän (Lieutenant Commander) by Emperor Franz Josef I and given command of the submarine base in the Gulf of Cattaro. His record, however, stood as the most successful Austrian submarine commander of World War I having completed 19 war patrols and sinking 12 cargo vessels, one French cruiser and one Italian submarine for a total of 58,494 tons of enemy shipping destroyed.
Although often forgotten compared to the larger German U-boat fleet, the small Austrian submarine force proved to be a true elite with an outstanding record: They conducted 79 torpedo attacks with a hit rate of above 90%.For his role in this Captain Georg von Trapp was awarded the rare and prestigious Knight's Cross of the Order of Maria Theresa.
At the end of the war though, SMU-14, along with the rest of Austria-Hungary's Navy, had to be handed over to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (created on December 1, 1918; replaced in 1929 by the Kingdom of Yugoslavia), and the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy ceased to exist.
At the end of World War I, von Trapp's wartime record stood at 19 war patrols, 12 cargo vessels totalling 45,669 tons sunk, the French armored cruiser Leon Gambetta (12,600 tons) and the Italian submarine Nereide (225 tons). Among other lesser honors, he received a knighthood and the Knight's Cross of the Order of Maria Theresia. (His title is sometimes translated as "Baron," but Ritter is closer to the British "Sir.")
Dekorationen (Decorations, in German):
Life between the world wars
When World War I broke out, all civilians had to leave Pola, and the young wife took the children to live at the Whitehead family's Erlhof estate at Zell am See, Austria. As an English citizen, Agathe Whitehead was not allowed to leave the country, but was allowed to remain on her property which was a safe haven, with a self-sustaining farm, outbuildings for laundry, wood, an ice cellar, a gardener's house, a farmhouse, and stables. It had a dock and a boathouse on the lake since trips to town (directly across the lake) were made by boat. The Erlhof had neither a radio nor electricity, while the telephone was primitive and used by adults only for important messages. Food was scarce, even though the Whiteheads grew a big garden. Bread was made of corn, not wheat, so the groceries that Georg was able to bring home when on furlough were most welcome.
Three more of their children were born at Zell am See during the war: Werner (1915), Hedwig (1917), and Johanna (1919). Despite Ritter von Trapp's valor, Austria-Hungary was defeated in World War I and the empire collapsed. Stripped of its entire sea coast, Austria no longer required a Navy, and thus von Trapp lost his profession and livelihood. This devastated him, a man who had thrived on his naval career. The family had a nanny for the younger children, and a governess for the older ones. Between their own household and the Whitehead staff, the Erlhof was just not large enough to accommodate such a large group, so in 1921 Georg and Agathe moved their family to Klosterneuburg, outside of Vienna and shortly thereafter, their last child Martina was born.
Not long after that, Agathe, the oldest daughter, was afflicted with scarlet fever. Her siblings also contracted the disease, nursed by their mother until she, too, became ill. After nine months of suffering from this devastating epidemic, Agathe went to a sanitorium in Vienna, only to return to her home in August, 1922 to die a week later on September 3, 1922.
Von Trapp was inconsolable. According to Johannes von Trapp, his father was as devastated by the end of his naval career as by the loss of his wife: "My father's life was the navy." explained Johannes, "He was uncomfortable doing anything else. He was simply lost." He began raising his family alone. After the loss of their mother, the children had an endless parade of governesses. One would be hired for the older children, one for the younger, and one to run the household. But the children wanted to have just one governess.
After recovering from scarlet fever, Maria came down with scarlet fever (some say diphtheria) and became too weak to go to school. Georg contacted the nuns at Nonnberg Abbey, who told him about a novice from a local convent, Maria Augusta Kutschera, who could tutor Maria at home.
Prior to Maria's arrival at the von Trapp home, the family had always shared a love of music They often sang three-part harmony lieder together, and had been introduced to madrigals and other complex music. Encouraged by the Captain, they sang all the time, and he often accompanied them on guitar, mandolin, and violin. Maria Kutschera, joined in the children's musical education, and with the help of Father Franz Wasner, a local priest who became the family's chaplain, she made their voices smoother and more sophisticated.
She and Georg were married on November 26,1927, and Maria would bear the Ritter three more children (two girls and one boy). The first child, Rosmarie, was born two years after their marriage.
When Captain von Trapp lost his fortune after the Austrian national bank folded in 1933, the children had to learn how to work, doing laundry and other household chores. They looked at their misfortune as an adventure, but their father was hit hard by the loss. At that point, he had nine children to support, and no money. When the von Trapps began to earn money by singing in public, the Captain faced another conundrum. For a man in his position, earning a living on stage was considered dèclassè. But they had little choice. As the head of the family, the Captain would come out and introduce the group after they had performed a few numbers, and then at the end of the show he would come back out and take a bow.
Maria, along with Father Wasner, brought a sophistication to the family's singing, but according to Johannes, it was the Captain's naval stature that had helped the family forge their careers. Even before they began singing the Captain was very well known, and his name lent a certain air of importance to their group. When they were performing in Austria, prior to World War II, most of the "children" were already young adults. As for the folk costumes they wore, Maria von Trapp mentiones in her autobiography that people returned to traditional wear after World War I because of a clothing shortage.
Summer Residence - the Erljof
The Erlhof was built around the year 1050. It is one of oldest settlements on Lake Zell am See. In the Salzburg archives, Erlhof is first mentioned in 1137. On November 8, 1151 the Burggraf Hartnid bequeathed the lake-side estate to the Monastery of St. Peter after the death of his beloved wife.
Additional background history:
In Chapter 8 of Maria's book ("Uncle Peter and his Handbook"), she describes a trip taken by the von Trapp family, together with the Captain's cousin, Peter, and his family. They bicycled from Salzburg, through the Alps, and all the way to Pola. From the evidence given in the book, it seems to have been around 1931. She writes:
"There were not many cars on the highways at that time, and the country through which we cycled was so unearthly beautiful -- we had a wonderful, wonderful time." They had sent the luggage ahead to Pola; she writes, "Pola, situated on the southernmost point of the Istrian peninsula, was the former Austrian Naval Base, which is now Italian, and the island [Veruda, their destination] was a few miles offshore."
They made it to Pola in five days' time: "there, eating the most delicious fried fish and drinking the dark native wine, we sat together until deep into the night, telling of our adventures."
They then set out for the nearby island of Veruda:
"The island had no pier; one had to wade ashore. ... Veruda is one of the many small islands off the shore of Istria and Dalmatia, which on one side emerges gently out of the sea, rises gradually up to about 150 or 200 feet, and ends abruptly on the other side in a steep cliff. In an hour one could walk around it. The sea had eaten deep into its shoreline, forming many little bays as big as a large room. One part of the island, about fifty acres, was covered with dense pine groves. The rest was fields and pastures. Franciscan Fathers had once owned this beautiful spot. On the highest point of the island the ruins of the church and the convent were still standing. The monks had planted a garden with medicinal herbs. Long after the Fathers had been driven out by Napoleon, the herbs had spread all over the land, and during the hot summer nights they exhaled the most wonderful fragrance, which one could smell for miles and miles out at sea: thyme and lavender, dill and sage, mint and sweet geranium and rosemary, and many more which we couldn't name. The old walls were overgrown with honeysuckle, wild roses, oleander, and laurel. A walk through this little paradise in the full moonlight was unearthly beautiful.
When Signor Pauletta, who owned "a couple of pots and pans, a Sunday suit, and fishing tackle" saw the familes come ashore, laden with all sorts of modern and sophisticated camping gear and luggage, he clucked his tongue many times and said "Varra, varra!" which, Maria explains, means "What do you know about that!".
The chapter ends with her calling Veruda "that hidden pearl of the sea." [There is nothing in this book about their going to Lussin, though, as remembered from personal accounts by some of our Lussignani.]
When the economy crashed in 1932 (the European side of the Great Depression), the von Trapps lost most of their money. They began singing as a way to raise some money. They performance at the Salzburg Music Festival in 1935 (or 1936) won them first prize in a choral competition, and thus were invited to give concert tours throughout Europe: France, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
According to Hirsch's book, their musical touring life was abruptly halted when Hitler invaded Austria. The Captain brought his family together and said, "We are standing at the open grave of Austria." He asked them if they wanted to stay or to leave. Despite the hardships sure to face them, they had no moral choice but to depart. Although it was a terrible blow to leave their home and all their belongings behind, when they learned that Himmler himself had taken over their house, their grief was almost unbearable.
In 1938, Austria was annexed to Adolf Hitler’s German Empire - the Anschluss of 1938 - and unlike many Austrian aristocrats, the Von Trapps were horrified. Georg made no secret of his feelings; allegedly, the Gestapo ordered the von Trapps to display the Hakenkreuzflagge (swastika flag) for Hitler's visit to Salzburg, but Georg replied, "I can do a better job with one of my Persian carpets." [is this part of the movie fiction, Maria's book and/or a true fact?] "Three times he refused the Nazis," said Renaud Doucet, the director of the Sound of Music show in Vienna. Twice he refused to become the commander of a U-boat, and command of a submarine base [check this]. "I have sworn my oath of loyality to only one Emperor" was his answer, and von Trapp rejected the offer.
And then he refused to sing at Hitler's birthday party. With that third refusal, the family realised they had to leave the country. They took a train and crossed into Italy, and at midnight on the same day, Hitler closed the borders." The von Trapps later learned that Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Gestapo himself, had moved into their house. [see below]
Maria was then pregnant with Georg Ritter von Trapp's tenth child (her third) - Johannes (now the president of the Trapp Family Lodge) when an offer to give a series of concerts in the United States provided their opportunity to escape. In June 1938, in order to avoid suspicion, the family appeared to be going on one of their frequent mountain hikes.
The family took a train to Italy, With the Baron having dual Italian and Austrian citizenship, the von Trapps first stayed in Trieste then sailed to the United States for their first concert tour. arriving at New York in September of 1938 under six month visitors' visas. Their first public American concert was in New York's City Hall in December 1938. That Christmas concert brought the Trapp Family Singers to national attention. Well received and reviewed, the singers performed for their audiences in traditional Austrian dress. A typical reaction to their performances was reported in the New York Times: "Their work was delightfully intimate, rhythmically secure, and, above all, expressive" (11 Dec. 1938). They then began a concert tour in Pennsylvania, and their son Johannes was born in Philadelphia in January 1939. The family traveled throughout the United States on concert tours for eight [?] months. Their US-visa expired after six months and the family was forced to leave the country. Thanks to concert invitations, however, they managed to get visas for Scandinavian countries.
Thus, they went back to Europe in 1939 to perform their concert tours in Scandinavia, then went back to Salzburg for a few months before returning to Sweden to finish their tour. From there, they traveled to Norway where their American manager sent them tickets for their next trans-Atlantic crossing, again on a visitor's visa, so that they could fulfill their contracts with him. Accompanying the von Trapp family on that voyage from Oslo, Norway, was Rev. Wasner and Martha Zochbauer, their secretary, as indicated on the Ship's Manifest.
A yet-unconfirmed account:
The Nazis had other plans. In 1939 the Villa von Trapp became the headquarters of the infamous Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer and head of the SS storm troopers. More than any other member of the Third Reich, Himmler was responsible for Hitler's reign of terror inside Germany and its occupied territories. That's him, who was one of the " architects" of the "Final Solution," the Nazi program for exterminating the Jews.
Himmler's motives for choosing the Villa von Trapp are unclear. It was he, however, who built the white wall that now surrounds the property. A servant who worked in the villa before, during and after Himmler's time, lived to tell this story to its present owners: Himmler conscripted slave labour to build the wall, and then - probably fearing security breaches - had all of the labourers shot.
After the war, the American military commanders (who occupied the Salzburg region) returned the ownership of the property to the von Trapp family, who again transferred it in 1948 to the "Missionaries of the Precious Blood." The community today uses the building for provincial offices and as quarters for the Kolleg St. Josef, a facility for seminarians. The chapel, upstairs where the von Trapp children would have practiced their singing, boasts an impressive series of stained-glass windows depicting Christ's blood dissolving the cross. [End of account.]
Under the direction of the priest, the family's recreational singing had turned into a profession and the family became known as "The Trapp Family Singers". In her book Mari, Maria von Trapp describes those early days. "Overnight we had become really poor; we had become refugees. A refugee not only has no country, he also has no rights. He is a displaced person. At times he feels like a parcel which has been mailed and is moved from place to place." But there were nine children and the tenth on the way. According to Maria, "The only thing we could do well together was sing, so we had to turn a hobby into a way of living."
The Trapp Family Singers toured the United States with a bus with "The Trapp Family Singers" painted on the side of the bus, their only physical home during their first two years in the United States. The von Trapp family formally lived in Merion, Pennsylvania, for three years. Johannes, the tenth von Trapp child was born during a concert tour of Philadelphia. The von Trapps had discovered Stowe, Vermont, a tiny mountain hamlet that reminded them of the home they left behind in Austria, so in 1942 Georg and Maria von Trapp took their $1,000 in savings, purchased part of the old Gale Farm on 600 acres, and converted a barn into their first formal home in the U.S.A. Maria named it Cor Unum meaning "One Heart".
The now famous family continued to tour the world for another fifteen years but their home and hearts remained in Stowe. The family delighted in farm living. From cooking, gardening and maple sugaring to beekeeping and cross-country skiing, each found a fulfilling life on the farm.
The von Trapps struggled to establish themselves as a choral singing group in the United States. They sang mostly in German, had a repertoire of difficult classical music, and dressed like refugees (?). But Maria would not let them fail. She hired a top manager and a publicist. Before long, the family singing group became quite a phenomenon. First American, and then European, audiences were impressed by the group as they performed year after year. In New York the Trapp Family Singers holiday concerts became yearly traditions.
The group enjoyed widespread success as they sang, played instruments, and re-enacted their customs on stage. The family toured the United States, as well as Europe, even as the Western nations prepared for war. By 1940 the Trapp Family Singers consisted of Baron and Baroness von Trapp and their ten children (seven daughters and three sons). The Trapp Family Singers disbanded in 1957 and went their separate ways.
Georg von Trapp's Family
Since Johannes was born in the U.S.A. he was a natural-born citizen. in 1944, part of the rest of the family applied for U.S. citizenship - Maria, Johanna, Martina, Maria, Hedwig, and Agathe - but Georg never applied. Rosemarie and Eleonore became citizens by virtue of their mother's citizenship, whereas Rupert and Werner became citizens by serving in during World War II.
Children with Agathe Whitehead:
Children with Maria Krutschera:
Because they traveled so much, the children basically had to put their personal lives on hold. Every time they made a stop during a tour, Maria made all of the family visit a nunnery. A strong figure, Maria would not hear of any of the children leaving the family to strike out on their own, even after some married and had families. She also seemed to be torn between what she thought. She felt that God wanted her to do what she felt to be most important - which caused her to lash out at her family.
In January 1947, Major General Harry J. Collins turned to Georg and Maria von Trapp in Stowe, Vermont, pleading for help for the Austrian people, having seen the residents of Salzburg suffer when he had arrived there with the famed 42nd Rainbow Division after World War II. The Trapp Family founded the Trapp Family Austrian Relief Inc. on impulse, with the headquarters in Stowe, Vermont. Founders Georg and Maria von Trapp took on the posts of first and second chairpersons, while Monsignore Dr. Franz Wasner was appointed treasurer.
On May 30th, 1947, Georg Ritter von Trapp passed away in Stowe, Vermont [or Boston?] from lung cancer. He was buried in a meadow behind the family's lodge. In 1987, nearly forty years later, Maria Augusta likewise passed away in Vermont, and she rests next to her husband in what is now the family cemetery at the Lodge. Also interred there are four of the children from the first marriage: Hedwig, Martina, Rupert and Werner von Trapp.
Books by others:
More about Georg von Trapp's family:
This page is compliments of Marisa Ciceran and Etty Simicich
Created: Sunday, June 26,
2005; Last Updated:
Sunday, March 27, 2016