The von Trapp Family History Part 7 – Family Life in the Midst of War
During World War II, the von Trapp family’s music was a relief to Americans as their husbands and sons were away at war. The Trapps’ own sons, Werner and Rupert, served in the 10th Mountain Division of the United States Army and saw combat in Italy. During this time the von Trapp’s legacy grew as they founded a music camp on their property, continued their tours, and raised support for their destitute homeland. While they may not have sung the famous Rodgers & Hammerstein tune, they certainly found that it helped others feel better when they would “sing about their favorite things.”
As the war continued on, the music of the Trapp Family Singers refreshed and encouraged America’s citizens just as it had Europeans before the outbreak of World War II. With their oldest boys, Rupert and Werner serving in the tenth mountain division as ski-troopers in Italy, the family formed a bond even from stage with the tearful families whose fathers, sons, brothers, and husbands were off at war themselves. “We would have felt like apologizing if we had our boys with us,” Maria later related. “It wouldn’t have been right for us to have them with us whenever everyone else’s family was away serving our country.”
Back in Austria, the von Trapp villa was confiscated by the Nazis and was turned into Heinrich Himmler’s headquarters. Their once-beloved chapel was turned into a beer parlor, and the parents’ bedroom into Himmler’s private suite! Hitler himself even visited the property at one point where he ordered several of his guards to be shot for whistling a Russian folk song.
In 1944 Maria poured her creative energy into starting a summer music camp in an abandoned army barracks near their property in Stowe, Vermont. Just as they did when building their home, the family pitched in to turn the dirty buildings into a beautiful, homey vacation spot where guests could sing, play instruments, and learn Austrian folk dance. The first month-long adventure drew over one hundred people who were fans of the Trapp Family performances, many of whom were new to music.
When at last the war ended and their sons returned home, they were greeted by the entire music camp which was now in its second year. Werner continued to tour with the family, but Rupert stayed behind to pursue a degree in medicine. Rosmarie and Eleanor, the two youngest daughters, had joined the singing group when their brothers had left, making the family stage appearance even larger.
While the war may have been over, living conditions for Austrians were unthinkable, and many personal friends of the von Trapps told them of the destitution they were experiencing. The whole family’s hearts were touched by the pleas. Georg and Maria soon founded the “Trapp Family Austrian Relief, Incorporated”, with Johanna and Werner acting as secretaries for the project. Thus began an enormous campaign of collecting food, clothing, and supplies at their concerts, then packaging them and mailing the goods to individuals in Austria. In under two years’ time, this organization sent over 275,000 pounds of supplies to impoverished citizens.
Ironically, the family’s escape from Austria later proved a blessing to their country, much in the same way that Joseph’s banishment to Egypt helped save his own family’s lives. In concert and in letters, the Trapps spread the word of their homeland’s desperate plight, and many a person’s life was rescued because of it.