Evanston Review - Online
April 14, 2011

Music is one of Elisabeth von Trapp's favorite things. It has always kept her family together.

She is the daughter of the late Werner von Trapp, forever endeared to the world as "Kurt," the second oldest son of Georg Ludwig "Baron" von Trapp, patriarch of the family mythologized in the classic play and film, "The Sound of Music."

Werner was the son of Baron and Agathe von Trapp. Agathe's death prompted the hiring of Maria, the governess who ultimately married Baron -- and became beloved to the world as the woman who helped keep the von Trapp family together, even as they escaped Austria during the onset of Nazism in the late 1930s .

"My grandfather said he'd rather hang one of his rugs than the Nazi flag. He didn't believe the way the government was being run was what he fought for in World War I," von Trapp said.

The Baron refused to hang the Nazi flag and would not allow his singing family to perform live for Hitler, two acts that encouraged the family plan to leave their home.

"People were starting to disappear. My grandfather did not want one of his children to go to a work camp or a concentration camp," said von Trapp.

No mountain climbing

Contrary to the film's iconic ending that shows the family dramatically walking over a mountain, von Trapp explained that each member of the family packed one suitcase and walked across the street to the train station, headed for Italy. Maria was pregnant with the family's tenth child.

Shortly after their departure, Nazi officer Heinrich Himmler occupied their home.

"Where the movie ends is where the real stories of how God answered prayers begin," von Trapp said. "Whatever it was, whether there was enough money for them to all get on the same ship together, whatever."

The von Trapps reached the U.S. in 1939.

"When they were asked how long they planned to stay, Maria replied: 'I'd like to stay here forever,'" von Trapp said.

They were detained at Ellis Island for three days, but those three days seemed like forever to them. A ship destined for Europe sat in the harbor and they knew they could be its next passengers.

Upon their release, the von Trapps supported themselves by singing. Maria performed while pregnant, defying cultural norms of the day.

"People would be surprised to know how hard they worked. I could never get over how quickly my father could pack his suitcase," von Trapp recalled. "But they spent weeks on tour, night after night in hotels."

And now von Trapp, who is working on her sixth CD, follows in their footsteps, performing concerts around the world.

On Sunday, April 17, she will perform at St. Elisabeth's Episcopal Church in Glencoe. Highland Park residents Fred and Marilyn Putz co-organized the concert.

"She has a folksy quality to her voice," Marilyn Putz said.

Variety of songs

Expect "Bach to Broadway, Schubert to Sting and everything in between," von Trapp said.

"I'm hoping to hear 'Edelweiss,'" said St. Elisabeth's Rev. Daphne Cody. "My mother sang it to me as a lullaby."

Von Trapp visits Austria as often as possible. Last year, she spent time at her family's former home. The walls of the building, which is now a hotel, are clad with photos of her family.

"It's like a museum," von Trapp said.

Von Trapp lives in Waitsfield, Vt., which is where the von Trapps eventually settled. Her mother and brothers live near her and her husband of 26 years, Ed Hall. Through music, her family remains close.

"With some family members, the focus of music still is alive and well," von Trapp said. "Whenever my niece, Abigail von Trapp, comes to visit me, she brings her guitar and we sing and play together. When I visit my sister, Barbara (von Trapp) Crandall, I usually sing a concert at her church. The other day I visited my aunt Maria, the last surviving member of the original seven children depicted in 'The Sound of Music.' I played her guitar and we sang together. At 97, she was still playing her accordion for visitors."

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