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Georg von Trapp

Georg Ludwig Ritter von Trapp (4 April 1880 – 30 May 1947) was an Austro-Hungarian Navy officer and the patriarch of the Trapp Family Singers, whose lives were the inspiration for the musical play and movie The Sound of Music. His naval exploits during World War I earned him numerous decorations, including the Military Order of Maria Theresa. Under his command, the submarines and sank 13 Allied ships totaling about .

Following Austria-Hungary's collapse after the war, Trapp returned to his family, but lost his wife to scarlet fever in 1922. Five years later, he married Maria Augusta Kutschera, the tutor for one of his daughters who had been home ill. Most of the family's wealth was wiped out during the Great Depression, after Trapp had transferred his savings from a bank in London into an Austrian bank. Maria later trained the children to perform at various events, as a way of earning a livelihood. The family came under increasing threats of persecution from the Nazis after the Anschluss when Trapp refused to serve in the German Navy, due to his opposition to Nazi ideology. He fled with his family to Italy and later to the United States, where he set up a farm and lived until his death in 1947.

Maria von Trapp wrote of their time together in her 1949 memoir The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, which was the inspiration for Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway stage musical The Sound of Music in 1959, which was produced and directed by Robert Wise into a popular movie in 1965.

Early life

Georg Ludwig Ritter von Trapp was born in Zara, Dalmatia, then a Crown Land of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (present-day Zadar, Croatia). His father, Fregattenkapitän August Johann Ritter von Trapp, was a naval officer who had been elevated to the Austrian nobility as "Ritter von Trapp". Both his sons inherited the hereditary title. August Ritter von Trapp died in 1884, when Georg was four.

Trapp's mother was Hedwig Wepler. His older sister was the Austrian artist Hede von Trapp, and his brother Werner died in 1915 during World War I.

Naval career

In 1894, aged fourteen, Trapp followed in his father's footsteps and joined the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy, entering the naval academy at Fiume (now Rijeka). As part of their required education, all naval cadets were taught to play a musical instrument; Georg von Trapp selected the violin. He graduated four years later and completed two years of follow-on training voyages, including one to Australia, as a cadet aboard the sail training corvette SMS Saida II. On the voyage home he visited the Holy Land where he met a Franciscan friar who took him on a tour of all the Biblical sites he wanted to see. Among other things, Trapp bought seven bottles of water from the Jordan River which were later used to baptize his first seven children. In 1900 he was assigned to the protected cruiser and was decorated for his performance during the Boxer Rebellion, in which he participated in the assault on the Taku Forts. In 1902 he passed the final officer's examination, and was commissioned a Fregattenleutnant (frigate lieutenant, equivalent to sub-lieutenant) in May 1903. He was fascinated by submarines, and in 1908 seized the opportunity to be transferred to the navy's newly formed submarine arm, or U-boot-Waffe, receiving promotion to Linienschiffsleutnant (ship-of-the-line lieutenant, or lieutenant) that November. In 1910 he was given command of the newly constructed , which was launched by his wife, the former Agatha Whitehead. He commanded U-6 until 1913.

On 17 April 1915, Trapp took command of . He conducted nine combat patrols in U-5, and sank two enemy warships. One was the French armored cruiser , sunk at on 27 April 1915, 25 km south of Cape Santa Maria di Leuca. In hunting and sinking Gambetta, Trapp achieved a notable success as commander of the first submarine to execute the first-ever underwater nighttime (and only the second nighttime) submarine attack on a vessel in the Adriatic. Just over three months later, he sank the Italian submarine at on 5 August 1915, 250 m off Pelagosa (Palagruža) Island. He also captured the Greek steamer Cefalonia off Durazzo on 29 August 1915. Now lionised as a hero across the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Trapp was nominated for the award of the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa for sinking the Gambetta, which he eventually received in 1924.

Trapp has sometimes incorrectly been credited with sinking the Italian troop transport . In reality, this was sunk by U-5 under Trapp's successor, Friedrich Schlosser (1885–1959), on 8 June 1916.

Trapp was transferred to , formerly the French submarine Curie, which had been sunk and salvaged by the Austrian Navy.Trapp conducted ten more war patrols, until, in May 1918, he was promoted to Korvettenkapitän (equal to Lieutenant commander) and given command of the submarine base at Cattaro in the Gulf of Kotor. At the end of the fighting in 1918, Trapp's wartime record stood at nineteen war patrols; eleven cargo vessels totalling sunk, plus Léon Gambetta and Nereide sunk, and one cargo vessel captured. The end of the First World War saw the defeat and collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the process, Austria was reduced in size to its land-locked German-speaking heartlands, thus losing its sea-coasts, and had no further need for a navy, leaving Trapp without a vocation or employment.

Italian citizenship



On leaving Austria the Trapps traveled to Italy, not Switzerland as depicted in The Sound of Music. Georg had been born in Zadar (now in Croatia), which at that time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1920, Zadar became part of Italy under the Treaty of Rapallo, as European national borders were realigned after the First World War and the collapse of the Empire, and Georg was thus an Italian citizen, along with his wife and children. The family had a contract with an American booking agent when they left Austria. They contacted the agent from Italy and requested fare to America.

First marriage and inherited wealth

Trapp married Agatha Whitehead, a niece of St John Brodrick, 1st Earl of Midleton and a granddaughter of Robert Whitehead who invented the modern torpedo. The British government rejected Whitehead's invention, but Austrian Emperor Franz Josef invited him to open a torpedo factory in Fiume. Trapp's first command was the U-boat U-6 which was launched by Agatha.

Agatha's inherited wealth sustained the couple and permitted them to start a family, and they had two sons and five daughters over the next ten years. Their first child was Rupert, born on 1 November 1911 at Pula while the couple were living at Pina Budicina 11. Their other children were: Agathe, also born in Pula; Maria Franziska, Werner; Hedwig, and Johanna, all born at the family home the Erlhof in Zell am See; and Martina, born at the Martinsschlössel at Klosterneuburg, for which she was named.

On 3 September 1922, Agatha von Trapp died of scarlet fever contracted from her daughter Agathe. Trapp then acquired Villa Trapp in Aigen, a suburb of Salzburg, and moved his family there in 1924. During this period, he delivered several lectures and conducted interviews on his naval career.

Second marriage

About 1926, Maria Franziska was recovering from an illness and was unable to go to school, so Trapp hired Maria Augusta Kutschera, a novice from the nearby Nonnberg Abbey as a tutor. They were married on 26 November 1927 when he was 47 and she was 22. They had Rosmarie, born on 8 February 1929, Eleonore, born 14 May 1931, and Johannes, born 17 January 1939 in Philadelphia.

Departure from Austria and later life



In 1935, Trapp's money, inherited from his English first wife, was invested in a bank in England. Austria was under economic pressure from a hostile Germany, and Austrian banks were in a precarious position. Trapp sought to help a friend in the banking business, Auguste Caroline Lammer (1885–1937), so he withdrew most of his money from London and deposited it in an Austrian bank. The bank failed, wiping out most of the family's substantial fortune.

At about that time, a Catholic priest, Franz Wasner, around Maria's age, came to live with the family and became the group's musical director. Around 1936, Lotte Lehmann heard the family sing, and she suggested they perform paid concerts. When the Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg heard them on the radio, he invited them to perform in Vienna.

According to Maria von Trapp's memoirs, Georg von Trapp found himself in a vexing situation after the German takeover of Austria in 1938. He was offered a commission in the German Navy, a tempting proposition, but decided to decline the offer, being opposed to Nazi ideology. Knowing that he could not decline the offer without the threat of arrest, possibly for his entire family, Trapp decided to leave Austria. The family took a train to Italy, then sailed to the United States for their first concert tour, then in 1939 went back to Europe to tour Scandinavia, hoping to continue their concerts in cities beyond the reach of the Third Reich. During this time, they went back to Salzburg for a few months before returning to Sweden to finish the tour. From there, they traveled to Norway to begin the trip back to the United States in September 1939, just after World War II broke out.

After living for a short time in Merion, Pennsylvania, where their youngest child, Johannes, was born, the family settled in Stowe, Vermont, in 1941. They purchased a 660 acre farm in 1942 and converted it into the Trapp Family Lodge. In January 1947, Major General Harry J. Collins turned to the Trapp family in the US pleading for help for the Austrian people, having seen firsthand the residents of Salzburg suffer when he had arrived there with the 42nd Infantry Division after World War II. The Trapp Family founded the Trapp Family Austrian Relief, Inc., and the priest Franz Wasner, their pre-war friend, became its treasurer.

Death

Trapp died of lung cancer on 30 May 1947 in Stowe, Vermont.

Children

Orders, decorations and medals

  • Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa (1924)
  • Knight's Cross of the Order of Leopold
  • Military Merit Cross
  • 1898 Jubilee Medal
  • 1908 Jubilee Cross
  • War Medal 1914–1918 with swords
  • Long Service Cross (18 years)
  • Iron Cross First Class (German Empire)

    Portrayals

    The Captain has been portrayed in various adaptations of his family's life such as The Sound of Music, both the 1965 film and the Broadway musical, as well as two German films, The Trapp Family (1956) and The Trapp Family in America (1958). However, these adaptations often altered the portrayal of the Captain. In real life and in the memoir "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers", written by his second wife Maria Augusta Trapp, the Captain has been described as being a warm and loving father who was always around. The Captain was portrayed in a more negative light in many adaptations though. For instance, in the 1965 film, Georg von Trapp was portrayed as a disciplinary man who always went away and did not care for his children or their feelings at the beginning of the film. BBC Radio presented a different account of the family in October, 2009, in a play by Annie Caulfield called The Von Trapps and Me, focussed on Princess Yvonne, "the woman Captain Von Trapp jilted in order to marry Maria."