Two Members of the Real-Life von Trapp Family Served in WWII

Photo Credit: Imagno / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Imagno / Getty Images

The von Trapp family’s incredible story is one of the most well-known events of the Second World War. Though not entirely accurate, it was forever immortalized in the 1965 classic, The Sound of Music. While what happened to them is Austria is widely known, the events that followed their escape are just as fascinating.

Beginnings of the von Trapp Family

The patriarch of the family, Georg von Trapp, was born in Dalmatia – part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – on April 4, 1880. von Trapp quickly rose to fame during World War I as an officer with the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy. During the conflict, he became the service’s most successful submarine commander, sinking 11 Allied merchant ships and two warships.

For his efforts, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Imperial Order of Leopold and the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class, among other honors.

Georg von Trapp standing with Agathe Whitehead
Georg von Trapp with Agathe Whitehead, 1910. (Photo Credit: PA Images / Getty Images)

Georg von Trapp married his first wife, Agathe Whitehead, in 1911. The couple had two sons and five daughters together, and they lived happily until Agathe’s death from scarlet fever in 1922.

In 1926, von Trapp hired Maria Augusta Kutschera to tutor his children. Kutschera was from a local convent and quickly “fell in love” with the von Trapp children. The couple married in 1927, when he was 47 and she, 22. In her autobiography, Kutschera claimed she was not in love with von Trapp prior to their marriage:

“I really and truly was not in love,” she wrote. “I liked him but didn’t love him. However, I loved the children, so in a way I really married the children … [B]y and by I learned to love him more than I have ever loved before or after.”

Maria von Trapp sits in the center surrounded by Georg von Trapp and six of their children
Maria Augusta von Trapp with Johannes, Eleonore, Hedwig, Martina, Maria, Rosemarie and Werner. (Photo Credit: Hulton-Deutsch Collection / CORBIS / Getty Images)

The well-off family’s troubles began in 1935 with the start of the Great Depression, which was triggered by the stock market crash of 1929. To make a living, the von Trapp’s began singing. Their family choir was invited to perform at the Salzberg Festival in 1936, where they won first place, as depicted in The Sound of Music.

So long, farewell

In March 1938, Austria was annexed by Germany, following increasing support for the Third Reich within the country. The family disagreed with the principles promoted by the Germans and chose to flee to Italy in September 1938.

The von Trapp family pose together before a performance
The von Trapp family warm up before a performance at New York City’s Town Hall, 1938. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

They eventually traveled to England, before landing in the United States in the early 1940s. However, this would not be the last time the von Trapp’s would defend their beliefs on Austrian soil.

From music to military service

After settling in the US with the rest of their family, Rupert and Werner von Trapp, the eldest sons, enlisted in the US Army. In 1943, they were assigned to the 101st Infantry Battalion, composed primarily of Austrian-Americans and Austrian nationals. The regiment arrived in Cherbourg, France in September 1944.

The brothers were later transferred to the 10th Mountain Division and served in Italy for the remainder of WWII.

Rupert and Werner von Trapp read over sheet music
Rupert and Werner von Trapp read over music together, 1946. (Photo Credit: Conrad Poirier / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Rupert, who was a medical doctor before the war, served as a medic during his time in the Army. He was also the first surgeon general of the 10th Mountain Division. He returned to the US following the war and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service. Rupert settled in Vermont and earned a second medical degree in 1947, opening a private practice soon after. He continued to provide medical care to patients until his retirement in 1981.

He passed away in 1992, at the age of 80.

Members of the von Trapp family sit around a table outside their Vermont home.
The von Trapp family gather for a traditional Austrian “Jause,” or afternoon coffee, outside their Vermont lodge. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

Werner von Trapp also returned to the US following the war. He helped open a community school for music in Pennsylvania, before settling as a dairy farmer at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont. He died in 2007, at the age of 91. Both brothers and their family members, including Georg and Maria, are buried at the Trapp Family Lodge cemetery.

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

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