TODAY IS THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF D-DAY – Marilyn Armstrong

You sure wouldn’t know it by what’s on television.

Not a single movie, documentary or anything. We watched “Oh, What a Lovely War” with a chaser of “The Americanization of Emily.” Garry scoured the listings, but no channel is showing anything related to D-Day.

Not like there aren’t plenty of movies and documentaries from which to choose. So, have we forgotten? Call me weird, but I think this is a day to remember. Always.

Here I am, cynical, skeptical and nobody’s flag-waver reminding everyone that this day was important. It was the beginning of the final stage of the most devastating war in remembered history.


The summary of loss of life, 1937-1945:

    • Military deaths: More than 16,000,000
    • Civilian deaths: More than 45,000,000
    • Total deaths for the war years 1937-1945: More than 61,000,000

I don’t think we should be allowed to forget so quickly, do you?

European border before the first World War

Europe just after WW 2

Europe-circa 1970

Because when we forget, when the lessons we learned are lost. We stand in imminent danger of repeating history. I, for one, think that’s a bad idea. Oh, wait … we ARE in the middle of repeating history.

Lest we forget … this is how it all began. With a world just like the one in which we are living. Today. With leaders who think war is a fine idea.

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION FOR THE UNKNOWING – Marilyn Armstrong

Every nation revises history. They leave out the bad bits  — slaughters of the innocent, unjust wars against minorities and civilians. They invent heroes, turn defeats into victories.

American history is no different.

It’s relatively easy to make our history match our myths when such a large percentage of U.S. citizens haven’t learned any history since third grade. There’s some question about how well third-grade lessons were absorbed. Recent studies show a troubling pattern of ignorance in which even the basics of history are unknown to most of our natural-born citizens. Ironically, naturalized citizens are far better educated. They had to pass a test to become citizens. The rest of us got a free pass.

College students don’t know when we fought the Revolution, much less why. They can’t name our first president (George Washington, just in case you aren’t sure). Many aren’t clear what happened on 9/11.  I’ve been asked which came first, World Wars I or II — indicating more than ignorance. More like deep stupidity.

All over Facebook, morons gather to impress each other with the vigor of their uninformed opinions. They proclaim we fought the Revolution to not pay taxes and keep our guns. Saying that’s not how it happened is insufficient. I lack the words to say how untrue that is.

Why did we have a Revolution? How come we rebelled against England rather than peaceably settling our differences? Wouldn’t it have been easier to make a deal?

Yes, it would have been easier to make a deal and we tried. Unfortunately, it turned out to be impossible. We fought a revolution when we exhausted every peaceful option. Petitions and negotiations failed, but we kept trying, even after shots had been fired and independence declared.

We didn’t want a war with England. There were lots of excellent reasons:

      • Our economy was entirely dependent on trade with England. Through English merchants, we could trade with the rest of the world. Without them, we were stuck with no trading partners or ships
      • We were ill-equipped to fight a war
      • We had no navy, no commanders. No trained army. We barely had guns
      • Our population was too small to sustain an army
      • We had no factories, mills or shipyards
      • We relied on England for finished goods other than those we could make in our own homes, including furniture, guns, clothing, cutlery, dishes, porcelain
      • We needed Britain to supply us with anything we ate or drank (think tea) unless we could grow it in North America.

All luxury goods and many necessities came from or through England. We had some nascent industries, but they were not ready for prime time. It wasn’t until 1789 we built our first cotton-spinning mill — made possible by an Englishman named Slater who immigrated from England and showed us how to do it.

Our American colonies didn’t want to be Americans. We wanted to be British. Why? Because there was no America. There was no U.S.A. Creating the U.S.A. was what the war was about, although taxes, parliamentary participation, and slavery were also major components.

We wanted the right to vote in parliamentary elections, to be equals with other British citizens. The cry “no taxation without representation” didn’t mean we weren’t willing to pay taxes. It meant we wanted the right to vote on taxes.

We wanted to be heard, to participate in government. Whether or not we would or would not pay a particular tax was never the issue. Everyone pays taxes — then and now.

We wanted seats in Parliament and British citizenship.

King George was a Royal asshole. His counselors strongly recommended he make a deal with the colonists. Most Americans considered themselves Englishmen. If the British king had been a more flexible, savvy or intelligent monarch, war could have been averted. We would be, as the Canadians are, part of the British Commonwealth. There would have been no war. A bone-headed monarch thought a war was better than compromise. He was a fool, but it worked out better than we could have hoped.

Cornwallis surrenders at Yorktown

We declared war which many folks here and abroad thought was folly. We almost lost it. We would have lost were it not for two critical things:

      • British unwillingness to pursue the war aggressively
      • French ships and European mercenaries.

Without French assistance and hired mercenaries from central Europe, we would have been squashed by the British who were better armed, better trained. They had warships and trained seamen to man them.

We didn’t have anything like that. French participation was the key to possibly winning the war. Oh, and we promised to pay the war debt back to France. Lucky for us, they had their own Revolution, so when they asked for the money, we said “What money?”

Just as we considered ourselves English, albeit living abroad in a colony rather than in England, British soldiers and commanders were not eager to slaughter people they considered Englishmen. They didn’t pursue the war with the deadly determination they might have. If they had, who knows?

Did we win because the British were inept and couldn’t beat an untrained ragtag rabble army? That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

I side with those who think the British found it distasteful to shoot people with whom, a short time before, they had been friends and with whom they hoped to be friends again. And of course, many British soldiers had family in “the colonies” and vice-versa. It was a painful fight, similar to a civil war.

Boston massacre

Many British citizens sympathized with the colonists including a big percentage of troops. Sympathy ran high even in the upper echelons of the British government. Many important people in England were none too happy with King George. They did as they were ordered but without enthusiasm.

No one in the British government — or high up in the army — believed the colonies had any chance of winning. They were convinced we’d work it out by negotiations. Eventually. Many felt the fewer people killed in the interim, the lower would be the level of hard feelings afterward.

The Beaver and the Tea Party Museum in Boston

But, there was one huge miscalculation. The British did not expect the French to show up. As soon as the French fleet arrived, a few more battles were fought and the British went home. Had they pursued the war with vigor from the start, we wouldn’t have lasted long enough for the French to get here, much less save our butts.

British surrender at Yorktown

The mythology surrounding the American Revolution is natural. Every nation needs heroes and myths. We are no exception. Now that we have grown up, we can apply some healthy skepticism to our mythology. We can read books and learn there’s more to the story than what we learned as kids. Like, the second part of the Revolutionary War also known as “The War of 1812.” It was really the second of two acts of our Revolution — which we lost fair and square when the British burned Washington D.C.

We did not win the Revolution. We survived it. Barely.

Andrew Jackson’s big win at New Orléans in 1814 kept the British from coming back. The battle took place a full 10 days after the war ended. Losing it would no doubt have encouraged the British to return, but the Battle of New Orléans was not decisive. By then, the war was over.

Battle of New Orleans (10 days after the Revolutionary war ended)

No one had a cellphone, so they didn’t know the war was over. I contend the course of history would be very different if cell phones were invented a few centuries earlier.

Only crazy people think guns and killing is the solution to the world’s ills.

Guns and killing are the cause of most problems. It horrifies me such people gain credence.

Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown

Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was no better form of government than ours — or at least as ours used to be. No government offered better protection to its citizens.

Intelligent people don’t usually throw away the good stuff because someone lost or won an election, or a jury brought in a bad verdict. At least that’s what I used to believe. I’m not sure I was right.

An educated citizenry and a free press are our best defense against tyranny. As long as you can complain openly and protest vigorously against your own government, and the people on TV and the news can say what they will about the government — whether or not we agree with them — we are living in a free nation.

That’s a rare and wonderful thing.

Ignorance is the enemy of freedom.

It allows fools to rush in where angels would never dare. Support education. Encourage your kids to read. Let’s all read.

Education benefits everyone.

I’LL FLY AWAY … By Marilyn Armstrong

When I was a lot younger — in my teens — America didn’t look all that wonderful to me. It was before abortion became legal. Vietnam was in high gear and my first husband and I were close to bankrupt from having my spine repaired.

When I went into the hospital, we had $20,000 in the bank which in the U.S. in 1965, was enough to buy a house and maybe a car, too. In fact, our first house cost $19,200 and our car cost under $1000.

The first house

When I staggered out of the hospital (I was there for five months), we had $10 in the bank and owed the hospital a couple of thousand dollars more. I asked my husband if we didn’t pay them back, would they find me and break my back again?

Our first house in Boston

We cashed in everything we had, sold anything that had any value. Mind you, we had insurance. Just not enough insurance. Two years later, Owen was born with two club feet. It cost us about $500 every week to treat his feet. By the time he was walking almost normally, we were thousands of dollars in debt and never recovered.

There we were, deep in the Vietnam war. We had a lot of friends over there, too. We were lucky. Most of our friends came home.

We were young. Passionate. Sure we could fix it, whatever “it” was. We also wondered if we could move to Australia, Canada or somewhere we could earn a living, but in the end, we stayed in the U.S. It was home. We never imagined it would be as bad as it is now, but it wasn’t all that great back then, either.

When Jeff and I split up late in 1979, I moved to Israel with Owen and it became my “other: home. I became a citizen but in the end, I came back to the U.S. Because I knew where “home” was and it wasn’t there.

House in summer

I have been back since the end of the 1980s. Things got better, worse, then better, worse, better — and now, simply awful. Until Netanyahu was re-elected in Israel yesterday, I had this underlying belief that at least I had another home to which I could flee — if fleeing was what we had to do.

It turns out that any place we might go to has its own issues, most of which are as bad (and surprisingly similar) as ours. They may lack our disgusting, lying president, but they are battling over immigration, health care, taxes, the climate. Their politicians are also liars. More polite than ours. Not less sleazy but they have better manners.

Meanwhile, climate change will affect the entire world. All the pointless arguments in the world are not going to change that reality.

Is there anywhere for us to go? Is there a safe place with sane leaders who would want us? I think not.

First of all, we are old and not rich. Most countries, if they are looking for immigrants, are looking for young, well-educated people who will contribute to their economy or older people who have money. Israel would take us because I’m a citizen, but their problems are serious; I don’t see them improving soon.

The home in Baka, Jerusalem

Effectively, there is nowhere for us to go.

I think in years to come there will be only two kinds of people in this world: those who hate immigrants and immigrants.

Everyone else will be hiding in a cave.

WE PLEDGED ALLEGIANCE AND THOUGHT IT MEANT SOMETHING – Marilyn Armstrong

We pledged allegiance. We thought it meant something.

Obviously, the pledge of allegiance springs instantly to mind. As it should.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. And to the Republic, for which is stands. One nation, indivisible. With liberty and justice for all.”

We all had to stand up and say it every morning.

Photo: Garry Armstong

Do our representative pledge allegiance? Do they promise liberty and justice for all? Do they laugh as they say it? Because somehow, this very fundamental pledge which all American kids said apparently no longer holds any meaning for what we humorously call “our leaders.”

Just saying.

FOWC

IDENTICAL? NOT EXACTLY, BUT ABSOLUTELY RHYMING

No two things are identical, though many things seem to be on the surface.

Even identical twins are not precisely identical. There’s always some small difference. Every snowflake is unique. Each part of history is slightly different from any other.

But if things aren’t identical, they can be remarkably similar. “Rhyming” as Samuel Clemens artfully phrased it.

Our world today rhymes well with the rise of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany. Every single day that passes make this more obvious. The U.S. is not 1930s Germany, yet we resemble it sufficiently to make some of us — me for example — very worried.

Many people describe the German government at the time as weak — or mostly too weak to fight back. There was a time — quite a long time — when they could have fought back. When Hitler could have been forced down and out, but it didn’t happen.

Will we do a better job? Are we trying? What more can we do?

My friend, Martha Kennedy pointed out to me that Trump is not a Republican.

Trump is a fascist.

It caught me off-guard for a second. My breath went in and stopped there … and then I knew she was right. He isn’t a Republican. He isn’t even an American. There isn’t a patriotic, nation-loving bone in his bloated body. He is a greedy, bigoted, narcissist who cares about no one but himself. He is loyal to nothing.

In my heart, I would like to see him in handcuffs off to a long-term in Federal prison, but I would settle for him and all those wretched people he has sucked into our government removed and banned from government. If you can ban Pete Rose from baseball, how much more so should we be banning that thing from any kind of government — or even the possibility of getting any sort of government assistance for any project. Ever.

But don’t worry. I’m sure someone will hire him to do play by-play on a TV news show somewhere. Let’s take a wild guess here. You think possibly Fox?

FROM THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES: THE REAL VON TRAPP FAMILY – BY JOAN GEARIN

You can read the original of this post on the National Archives —  and I strongly recommend you do. Beyond this story, there are wonderful articles in the archives worth your attention.

It is frequently said that “The truth is stranger than fiction.” What is rarely mentioned is that the truth — the history — is also frequently more interesting and this is one of those cases.

There has been a lot of recent media information about the move “The Sound of Music.” I’m not sure why since it isn’t an anniversary of the film, but for whatever reason, it has been on the air recently as short documentaries. I read much of this background years back, but thought it deserved another reading. I also got to wondering if the von Trapp’s ever got their fortune back after leaving Austria. The answer turned out to be a solid “no.” When they left Austria, they left everything behind. Although there is some question about how much fortune they still had remaining, it was still considerable.

This was a family who would not compromise with the Nazi takeover of their country. They felt they had to leave. It is a story worth pondering in this day and age. 


Movie VS. Reality: 
The Real Story of the Von Trapp Family

Winter 2005, Vol. 37, No. 4

By Joan Gearin

refer to captionMaria von Trapp, photograph from her Declaration of Intention, dated January 21, 1944. (Records of District Courts of the United States, RG 21)

I first saw the movie The Sound of Music as a young child, probably in the late 1960s. I liked the singing, and Maria was so pretty and kind! As I grew older, more aware of world history, and saturated by viewing the movie at least once yearly, I was struck and annoyed by the somewhat sanitized story of the von Trapp family it told, as well as the bad 1960s hairdos and costumes.

“It’s not historically accurate!” I’d protest, a small archivist in the making. In the early 1970s I saw Maria von Trapp herself on Dinah Shore’s television show, and boy, was she not like the Julie Andrews version of Maria! She didn’t look like Julie, and she came across as a true force of nature. In thinking about the fictionalized movie version of Maria von Trapp as compared to this very real Maria von Trapp, I came to realize that the story of the von Trapp family was probably something closer to human, and therefore much more interesting, than the movie led me to believe.

Part of the story of the real von Trapp family can be found in the records of the National Archives. When they fled the Nazi regime in Austria, the von Trapps traveled to America. Their entry into the United States and their subsequent applications for citizenship are documented in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Fact from Fiction

While The Sound of Music was generally based on the first section of Maria’s book The Story of the Trapp Family Singers(published in 1949), there were many alterations and omissions.

  • Maria came to the von Trapp family in 1926 as a tutor for one of the children, Maria, who was recovering from scarlet fever, not as governess to all the children.
  • Maria and Georg married in 1927, 11 years before the family left Austria, not right before the Nazi takeover of Austria.
  • Maria did not marry Georg von Trapp because she was in love with him. As she said in her autobiography Maria, she fell in love with the children at first sight, not their father. When he asked her to marry him, she was not sure if she should abandon her religious calling but was advised by the nuns to do God’s will and marry Georg. “I really and truly was not in love. 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.”
  • There were 10, not 7 von Trapp children.
  • The names, ages, and sexes of the children were changed.
  • The family was musically inclined before Maria arrived, but she did teach them to sing madrigals.
  • Georg, far from being the detached, cold-blooded patriarch of the family who disapproved of music, as portrayed in the first half of The Sound of Music, was actually a gentle, warmhearted parent who enjoyed musical activities with his family. While this change in his character might have made for a better story in emphasizing Maria’s healing effect on the von Trapps, it distressed his family greatly.
  • The family did not secretly escape over the Alps to freedom in Switzerland, carrying their suitcases and musical instruments. As daughter Maria said in a 2003 interview printed in Opera News, “We did tell people that we were going to America to sing. And we did not climb over mountains with all our heavy suitcases and instruments. We left by train, pretending nothing.”
  • The von Trapps traveled to Italy, not Switzerland. Georg was born in Zadar (now in Croatia), which at that time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Zadar became part of Italy in 1920, and Georg was thus an Italian citizen, and his wife and children as well. 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.
  • Instead of the fictional Max Detweiler, pushy music promoter, the von Trapps’ priest, the Reverend Franz Wasner, acted as their musical director for over 20 years.
  • Though she was a caring and loving person, Maria wasn’t always as sweet as the fictional Maria. She tended to erupt in angry outbursts consisting of yelling, throwing things, and slamming doors. Her feelings would immediately be relieved and good humor restored, while other family members, particularly her husband, found it less easy to recover. In her 2003 interview, the younger Maria confirmed that her stepmother “had a terrible temper. . . . And from one moment to the next, you didn’t know what hit her. We were not used to this. But we took it like a thunderstorm that would pass, because the next minute she could be very nice.”

The Real von Trapps

Georg von Trapp, born in 1880, became a national hero as a captain in the Austrian navy during World War I. He commanded submarines with valor and received the title of “Ritter” (knight), and later baron, as a reward for his heroic accomplishments. Georg married Agathe Whitehead, the granddaughter of Robert Whitehead, the inventor of the torpedo, in 1912.

They had seven children together: Rupert, 1911–1992; Agathe, 1913–[2010]; Maria, 1914–[2014]; Werner, 1915–[2007]; Hedwig, 1917–1972; Johanna, 1919–1994; and Martina, 1921–1952. After World War I, Austria lost all of its seaports, and Georg retired from the navy.

His wife died in 1922 of scarlet fever. The family was devastated by her death and unable to bear living in a place where they had been so happy, Georg sold his property in Pola (now Pula, Croatia) and bought an estate in Salzburg.

Photographs from von Trapp Declaration of Intention documents

(Records of District Courts of the United States, RG 21)

Maria Augusta Kutschera was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1905. She was orphaned as a young child and was raised as an atheist and socialist by an abusive relative. While attending the State Teachers’ College of Progressive Education in Vienna, she accidentally attended a Palm Sunday service, believing it to be a concert of Bach music, where a priest was speaking. Years later she recalled in her autobiography Maria, “Now I had heard from my uncle that all of these Bible stories were inventions and old legends, and that there wasn’t a word of truth in them. But the way this man talked just swept me off my feet. I was completely overwhelmed.” Soon after, Maria graduated from college, and as a result of her religious awakening, she entered the Benedictine Abbey of Nonnberg in Salzburg as a novice. While she struggled with the unaccustomed rules and discipline, she considered that “These . . . two years were really necessary to get my twisted character and my overgrown self-will cut down to size.”

However, her health suffered from not getting the exercise and fresh air to which she was accustomed. When Georg von Trapp approached the Reverend Mother of the Abbey seeking a teacher for his sick daughter, Maria was chosen, partly because of her training and skill as a teacher, but also because of concern for her health. She was supposed to remain with the von Trapps for 10 months, at the end of which she would formally enter the convent.

Maria tutored young Maria and developed a caring and loving relationship with all the children. She enjoyed singing with them and getting them involved in outdoor activities. During this time, Georg fell in love with Maria and asked her to stay with him and become a second mother to his children. Of his proposal, Maria said, “God must have made him word it that way because if he had only asked me to marry him I might not have said yes.” Maria Kutschera and Georg von Trapp married in 1927. They had three children together: Rosmarie, 1929– ; Eleonore, 1931– ; and Johannes, 1939–.

The family lost most of its wealth through the worldwide depression when their bank failed in the early 1930s. Maria tightened belts all around by dismissing most of the servants and taking in boarders. It was around this time that they began considering making the family hobby of singing into a profession. Georg was reluctant for the family to perform in public, “but accepted it as God’s will that they sing for others,” daughter Eleonore said in a 1978 Washington Post interview.

“It almost hurt him to have his family onstage, not from a snobbish view, but more from a protective one.” As depicted in The Sound of Music, the family won first place in the Salzburg Music Festival in 1936 and became successful, singing Renaissance and Baroque music, madrigals, and folk songs all across Europe.

When the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, the von Trapps realized that they were on thin ice with a regime they abhorred. Georg not only refused to fly the Nazi flag on their house, but he also declined a naval command and a request to sing at Hitler’s birthday party. They were also becoming aware of the Nazis’ anti-religious propaganda and policies, the pervasive fear that those around them could be acting as spies for the Nazis, and the brainwashing of children against their parents. They weighed staying in Austria and taking advantage of the enticements the Nazis were offering—greater fame as a singing group, a medical doctor’s position for Rupert, and a renewed naval career for Georg—against leaving behind everything they knew—their friends, family, estate, and all their possessions. They decided that they could not compromise their principles and left.

refer to caption Passenger list of the SS Bergensfjord, dated September 27, 1939 (page 1). The von Trapp family is listed at line 5. (Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85)

refer to captionPage 2 of the passenger list of the SS Bergensfjord. (Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85)

Traveling with their musical conductor, Rev. Franz Wasner, and secretary, Martha Zochbauer, they went by train to Italy in June, later to London, and by September were on a ship to New York to begin a concert tour in Pennsylvania. Son Johannes was born in January 1939 in Philadelphia.

When their six months visitors’ visas expired, they went on a short Scandinavian tour and returned to New York in October 1939. They were held at Ellis Island for investigation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, apparently because when asked by an official how long they intended to stay, instead of saying “six months,” as specified on their visas, Maria exclaimed, “Oh, I am so glad to be here—I never want to leave again!” The Story of the Trapp Family Singers notes that they were released after a few days and began their next tour.

refer to captionThis record of aliens held for special inquiry, dated October 7, 1939, notes that the family was to clear up confusion about the von Trapps status. (Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85)

refer to captionMaria von Trapp’s certificate of arrival into Niagara Falls, NY, on December 30, 1942, authenticated that she arrived legally in the United States. (Records of District Courts of the United States, RG 21)

 

In the early 1940s the family settled in Stowe, Vermont, where they bought a farm. They ran a music camp on the property when they were not on tour. In 1944, Maria and her stepdaughters Johanna, Martina, Maria, Hedwig, and Agathe applied for U.S. citizenship by filing declarations of intention at the U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vermont. Georg apparently never filed to become a citizen; Rupert and Werner were naturalized while serving in the U.S. armed forces during World War II; Rosmarie and Eleonore derived citizenship from their mother; and Johannes was born in the United States and was a citizen in his own right.

Georg died in 1947 and was buried in the family cemetery on the property. Those who had applied for citizenship achieved it in 1948. The Trapp Family Lodge (which is still operating today) opened to guests in 1950. While fame and success continued for the Trapp Family Singers, they decided to stop touring in 1955. The group consisted mostly of non-family members because many of the von Trapps wanted to pursue other endeavors, and only Maria’s iron will had kept the group together for so long.

In 1956, Maria, Johannes, Rosmarie, and daughter Maria went to New Guinea to do missionary work. Later, Maria ran the Trapp Family Lodge for many years. Of the children, Rupert was a medical doctor; Agathe was kindergarten teacher in Maryland; Maria was a missionary in New Guinea for 30 years; Werner was a farmer; Hedwig taught music; Johanna married and eventually returned to live in Austria; Martina married and died in childbirth; Rosmarie and Eleonore both settled in Vermont; and Johannes managed the Trapp Family Lodge. Maria died in 1987 and was buried alongside Georg and Martina.

The von Trapps and The Sound of Music

refer to captionMaria von Trapp s Declaration of Intention to become a U.S. citizen. (Records of District Courts of the United States, RG 21)

The von Trapps never saw much of the huge profits The Sound of Music made. Maria sold the film rights to German producers and inadvertently signed away her rights in the process. The resulting films, Die Trapp-Familie (1956), and a sequel, Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika (1958), were quite successful. The American rights were bought from the German producers. The family had very little input in either the play or the movie The Sound of Music. As a courtesy, the producers of the play listened to some of Maria’s suggestions, but no substantive contributions were accepted.

How did the von Trapps feel about The Sound of Music? While Maria was grateful that there wasn’t any extreme revision of the story she wrote in The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, and that she herself was represented fairly accurately (although Mary Martin and Julie Andrews “were too gentle-like girls out of Bryn Mawr,” she told the Washington Post in 1978), she wasn’t pleased with the portrayal of her husband.

The children’s reactions were variations on a theme: irritation about being represented as people who only sang lightweight music, the simplification of the story, and the alterations to Georg von Trapp’s personality. As Johannes von Trapp said in a 1998 New York Times interview, “it’s not what my family was about. . . . [We were] about good taste, culture, all these wonderful upper-class standards that people make fun of in movies like ‘Titanic.’ We’re about environmental sensitivity, artistic sensitivity. ‘Sound of Music’ simplifies everything. I think perhaps reality is at the same time less glamorous but more interesting than the myth.”

* * *

Examining the historical record is helpful in separating fact from fiction, particularly in a case like the von Trapp family and The Sound of Music. In researching this article, I read Maria von Trapp’s books, contemporary newspaper articles, and original documents, all of which clarified the difference between the von Trapps’ real experiences and fictionalized accounts. My impression of Maria from Dinah Shore’s show was the tip of a tantalizing iceberg: the real lives of real people are always more interesting than stories.

While the von Trapps’ story is one of the better known immigrant experiences documented in the records of the National Archives and Records Administration, the family experiences of many Americans may also be found in census, naturalization, court, and other records.

Note on Sources

The National Archives and Records Administration, Northeast Region–Boston in Waltham, Massachusetts, holds the original records of the von Trapps’ naturalizations as U.S. citizens. Declarations of intention, petitions for naturalization, and certificates of arrival are in Petitions and Records of Naturalization, U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, Records of District Courts of the United States, Record Group (RG) 21.

The passenger arrival list of the SS Bergensfjord and the Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry are in Passengers and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897–1957 (National Archives Microfilm Publication T715), Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85, and are held in many National Archives locations.

refer to caption

Maria von Trapp s petition for naturalization as a U.S. citizen. (Records of District Courts of the United States, RG 21)

refer to captionBack of Maria von Trapp s petition for naturalization. (Records of District Courts of the United States, RG 21)

Readers looking for a first-hand account of the family’s story should consult Maria von Trapp’s The Story of the Trapp Family Singers (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1949) and her autobiography Maria (Carol Stream, IL: Creation House, 1972).

Interviews consulted for this article appeared in The Washington Post (Jennifer Small, “Apparently, Julie Andrews was too tame to do her justice”), February 26, 1978, p. A1; The New York Times (Alex Witchel, “As ‘The Sound of Music’ returns to Broadway, the von Trapps recall real lives”), February 1, 1998, p. AR9; and Opera News 67 (May 2003): 44.

[3/11/2016: The year of Rosmarie von Trapp’s birth has been corrected to 1929. The year 1928 in the original version of this article was based on a mistyped date on the naturalization record.]

[Updated 1/3/2017: Rupert died in 1992 in Vermont; Agathe died in 2010 in Maryland; daughter Maria died in 2014 in Vermont; Werner died in 2007 in Vermont; Hedwig died in 1972 in Zell am See, Austria; and Johanna von Trapp Winter died in 1994 in Vienna, Austria.]​

[6/20/2017: Wording relating to Georg von Trapp’s title of “baron” was updated.]


Author: Joan Gearin, is an archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration, Northeast Region–Boston. She holds a B.A. in International Relations and an M.S. in Library and Information Science from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts.

A TOXIC TRIP – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother had a cousin named Paul. She grew up with him and even babysat for him on occasion. My grandparents adored Paul and he adored them. As an adult, Paul became a lawyer and handled all my grandparents’ legal business. He was totally trusted. He was even made executor of their wills.

Paul went into the army in World War II and was assigned to MacArthur’s unit in Japan. He ended up working directly under Douglas MacArthur. He spent a lot of time in Japan and learned fluent Japanese. After the war, he became one of the few Americans allowed, by the Japanese, to do business in Japan.

Paul was working with a company in Japan in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. He discovered that one of the senior officers was embezzling from the company. He confronted the man, let’s call him Mr. Tokyo. He gave Mr. Tokyo the opportunity to confess, but if he didn’t, Paul was going to report him. Shortly thereafter there was a company luncheon which both Paul and Mr. Tokyo attended. Paul left for the States the next day.

When he got home, Paul started to get sick. He began losing weight, his hair turned grey and started falling out. He got weaker and began to shuffle like an old man. He was in his 40’s. He ended up in the hospital for months. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. In desperation, they began to look for toxins in his system That’s when they discovered that Paul had been poisoned.

A little background is necessary here. At the time in Japan, saving face was still paramount. When faced with the prospect of losing face, it was not uncommon for the Japanese to resort to poisoning each other. The poison of choice was rat poison.

Paul’s situation suddenly made perfect sense. He contacted the company and told them of Mr. Tokyo’s treachery with the company and of Paul’s poisoning. I don’t remember if Mr. Tokyo confessed. I do know that he lost his job. I’d like to think that he suffered some severe consequences because of what he did to Paul. But while the embezzlement could be proved, the poisoning was another story. There was no hard evidence, just motive and opportunity.

Paul recovered but was never the same, mentally or physically.

There’s no dramatic ending or moral to this story. Except maybe watch your back if you accuse someone of a crime. But I don’t think many modern families have a poisoning story hiding in their family trees, so I hope you enjoyed this modern-day version of ‘The Borgias.’

DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU

We used to live in a constitutional Republic. It’s a kind of representative democracy in which the Electoral College stands between the citizens and the final result of elections — like a water filter in a well. It’s supposed to keep the big lumps of dirt out of the system.

It isn’t working. Not the filtration on our well — that’s working fine. Our water is clear, cold and tastes as good as water can. It’s the government that is broken and getting more broken by the minute. Somehow, a huge lump of dirt strolled right past the filters and took the reins of power. We’ve got ourselves our very own despot! Holy shit! How did this happen?

I was not even a little surprised that Trump’s minions refused to obey the order of a Federal judge. Why would he? Why would they? He has declared himself outside and above the law and his followers have said YES! We want MORE!

He has declared the constitution obsolete and invalid. His followers have cried Lock them up! Shoot them down! Ban them! And all we said was “Can he do that?” while he did that. Then, we shook our heads sadly.

By “them,” the minions really mean us. You, me, and anyone else they don’t like. Reporters and writers. People with not white skin and anyone who doesn’t go to the right kind of church. We are the declared enemy. If we write stuff about him and he doesn’t like it, we are in his sights. Uh-oh!

We are in trouble. Proof positive this morning that the forces of the law are not going to protect us. They’ve declared that they’re with him, the one who is above and outside the law. Forget all that constitutional gobbledygook. Number 45 is calling the plays and he wrote his own book in sentences of 140 characters or less.

For all of you who skipped history because it’s irrelevant to “real life,” this is a full chapter out of the Adolf Hitler playbook. This is how it’s done, how a minority bullies the majority into kneeling down to a dictator. He does not need the consent of the majority, only that they be too spineless to stand up to him. A powerful bunch of thugs at the helm and a shipload of weak, indecisive “oppositions” who are bound up in not wanting to “make waves.” All the thugs need do is for their opposites to do nothing long enough to let them get a firm grip on the military and enforcement arms of government. Later should opposition develop a spine, it’s too late. The powers of darkness have taken over the army.

They’ve got the weapons and the power while we have gallant words. Which historically, have yet to bring down an armed dictator.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN, DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD

Colin Kaepernick has been all over the news. He’s the 49ers quarterback who refused to stand for the national anthem as a protest against racism in the United States.

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There definitely is far too much racism in the United States. Too many police incidents. I’m totally on board with Mr. Kaepernick’s right to express his opinion on the matter in any legal, non-violent way.

Our Constitution’s first amendment paints the right to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of the press with a broad brush. What it fails to point out (though it is implicit) is that everyone shares this freedom — on all sides of an issue.

So if other people hate how you express your opinion, they have the right to burn your jersey, refuse to go to games in which you are playing … and for that matter, dismiss you from your job.

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Freedom cuts all ways. That’s how it’s supposed to work. Mr. Kaepernick is absolutely free to express his point of view. So can everyone else.

Do I agree with one side or the other? I agree with both sides.

More to the point, Mr. Kaepernick should have thought longer and harder about how he would take his stand. Offending many people is not always a good way to make your point, no matter how valid your point may be. He should have considered the potential impact on his fans — and ultimately, on his career. Especially in view of the fact that he’s not playing well.

In sports, you can get away with murder if you’re playing well. If you’re not …

If your team is less than thrilled with your on-field performance, getting involved in a major controversy might tip them in the direction of not renewing your contract. That’s the painful reality. I’m sure he never thought expressing his legal, constitutionally guaranteed opinion would raise such a negative ruckus — or end up with him facing unemployment.

You could classify this incident as a cautionary tale.

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Legal isn’t the same as well thought out. Was he justified in protesting racism in America? Sure. But maybe this wasn’t the best way to go about it.

WORDS OF A WELL-KNOWN AMERICAN

Next month a movie about this American will be released.  Is he a patriot or a traitor?  A villain or a hero?  Do you feel the same way about him now as you did two years ago?

How do your opinions compare?

We all have opinions about our country. While some of us are Democrats and others are Republicans, and while some are Libertarians and others are right of the Tea Party, we can generally all agree on certain aspects of the American government and our basic freedoms. Nobody wants our rights taken away and we all want to be good patriots, but what is a good patriot?

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“Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your Constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen…” and nothing would seem more certain than this. That is what one well-known American had to say recently, but not all are in agreement with his point of view.

“How can that be?” you might ask. Protecting the country, the Constitution and the countrymen would seem to be the highest priorities for a true patriot.

He added that we also need to look out for “encroachments of adversaries, and those adversaries don’t have to be foreign countries.  They can be bad policies.” There are many Americans who believe that bad policies are hurting the country. Ask anyone who claims to be in the Tea Party. They will tell you that Obamacare is killing this country. Ask many on the left and they will tell you lack of gun control is killing our children.

But this is not the sort of thing this well-known American is talking about. It could just be “simple overreach and — and things that — that should never have been tried, or — or that went wrong.”

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So the encroachments on our freedoms could be the sort of thing that intrudes on our privacy.  “If we want to be free, we can’t become subject to surveillance. We can’t — give away our privacy,” he told a reporter.

But is that what we are doing? Are we no longer free if we allow the government into every aspect of our lives? Is it right for them to collect data on our computer use, our telephone calls, our visits to neighbors? Shall they put cameras and sound recording equipment at major intersections? Should they fly drones over our houses to see what we are doing? What is to be done to preserve our American way of life?

“We have to be an active part of our government. And we have to say — there are some things worth dying for. And I think the country is one of them.”

The problem would seem to many that the average person is not an active part of government. People do not vote. They do not become educated on government policies, although they may re-post misleading graphics to Facebook. They do not protest the encroachment on the things we think are protected in the Bill of Rights. They do not speak out.

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Some may believe that we have to give up liberties to stay safe, but this American will question whether recent historical events “justify programs that have never been shown to keep us safe, but cost us liberties and freedoms that we don’t need to give up and our Constitution says we should not give up.” It is a tough issue, to be sure. Do you think we should give up freedoms to the government without proof as to why this should be? What about the Fourth Amendment?

It would seem the Fourth Amendment might be encroached upon by some programs at home. Do we really believe “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated?” If so, are recent actions of the government violating this idea?

This American does not necessarily disagree with the government’s need for surveillance but adds, “It’s the dirtiness of the way these things are being used. It’s the lack of respect for the public.”

So do you agree that is the problem with government programs? Are some policies bad, or at least the implementation of the policies, because they do not hold respect for the American people? These matters of government programs and their effects on our lives are a sticky business. Do you think things are worse because Obama is the President? Do you think things were worse when Bush was the President? Do you think we would have been better off with Romney or Mrs. Clinton or even Donald Trump?

Consider carefully and think to yourself how well you agree or disagree with the quotes above? It seems hard to disagree with an American who is defending American beliefs. Do you agree surveillance is necessary for freedom? Are you disloyal if you disagree? Now ask yourself, are you a good American? If you are a citizen of this country my guess is you think you are a good American. Are you a real patriot?

“Do you see yourself as a patriot?” a reporter asked this well know American, now living overseas.

“I do,” Edward Snowden replied.

If I now told you all the quotes above are from Snowden, what do you think of them?  Could your opinion possibly have changed about those patriotic quotes?

Joseph Gordon Leavitt will play the lead in the Oliver Stone film, Snowden.

REMEMBERING DAD ON HIS 100th BIRTHDAY

I planned to write an epic piece about my Dad who would have been 100 years old today. But my body has staged a mutiny, so I’ll be brief.

Dad must be smiling.

William Benfield Armstrong was the real life Quiet Man. I’m the oldest of three sons who realized that Dad meant what he said — just by the look on his face.

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My Dad was a handsome guy. Tall, lean and with a smile that dazzled women and men. I always thought he could’ve been a movie star, rivaling Clark Gable and Gary Cooper.

Dad rarely showed emotions. He kept it all inside. The day I left for basic training in the Marines, I saw something rare. Dad was crying as he put me on the train.

My Father didn’t talk about his experiences as an Army Staff Sgt. in World War Two. We knew he saw action in Germany but he never offered any details, always giving us an annoyed look if we persisted with questions. I finally got some answers a short time before Dad passed away in 2002. He told me about seeing his best friend killed in a jeep explosion, just a few yards in front of him.

He said it was an image he carried for the rest of his life. Dad talked and I listened. It was the longest conversation we ever had. When he finished, he just looked at me with a sad smile and patted my shoulders.

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After my Father died, my two brothers and I were going through his possessions. We found, buried under clothing, several medals he had been awarded in that war so many years ago. My Dad was a hero! We always knew that but never understood or appreciated him in that larger context.

So here’s to you, Dad. At 100, you’re still a ramrod, tall and proud.

PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN?

Proud to be an American? Why?

Proud to be from Texas. Proud to live in the greatest city on earth (fill in the name of city). Proud to be white. Proud to be a man, but prouder to be a woman. Proud to be Irish, Black, Hispanic, Polish, Greek, Jewish, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Christian, Hindu, Muslim … whatever, it doesn’t matter.

What makes you proud of an accident of birth? Are you proud to be alive? Human? Proud you aren’t dead of disease, starvation, natural disaster, or war?

I am not proud to be an American. I am glad to be an American, happy that I am free to live in a beautiful place and have a home in this valley. I love the United States. I think it’s fundamentally a great nation which, if we stopped screwing around, would be an even greater one. But proud?

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I’m proud of things I’ve written, some things I’ve done, and ashamed of others. I’m proud of what I’ve earned. I’m not proud of the gifts I was given at birth, but I am deeply grateful that I was lucky enough to receive them.

I am proud of my country’s achievements, but ashamed and embarrassed by other things we’ve done. I believe our Constitution is one of the great legal documents. That we so often fail to live up to it saddens me, but at least we had founders who weren’t airheads or mass murderers, a burden other nations bear.

Pride implies you actively participated or contributed to whatever makes you proud. I don’t think being born qualifies. If you exist, you were born. Birth gets you get a ticket to the starting line. A chance to run the race. To breathe. After that, it’s up to you.

So I’m glad to be an American. I’m happy I was born here. Nothing was required of me. If Mom had been Mexican or Turkish? Then I’d be proud to be Turkish or  Mexican.

Does this attitude make me unpatriotic? I don’t think so, but you are welcome to think what you like. I believe love of country should be tempered by discrimination, the realization that nations, like people, don’t always do the right thing.

We aren’t special by reason of birth. Being proud of where you were born is meaningless.

WHEN THE TOWERS FELL

I had just gotten back from a business trip to Tel Aviv. I had picked up some horrible bug — I drank the water — so I was home when my son called.

“Turn the TV on,” he said. He was working for Genuity, the former GTE backbone of the Internet.

“What channel,” I asked.

“Any channel,” he said.

I did. “The World Trade Center is on fire,” I said. Confused. Had there been a terrible accident? A few moments later, as I stood there watching, the second plane hit the towers.

I kept watching as I think all America — maybe the world — also watched.

The towers went down. The world has never been the same. Probably never will be the same again.

The console at my son’s office went dark … each light representing a company buried by the collapse of the World Trade Center, representing lives lost when the towers fell.

But our flag is, was, still there. Is still there. And so are we.

NOTHING SAYS INDEPENDENCE DAY LIKE ARTILLERY

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It’s the 4th of July. Happy Birthday America!

Hurricane Arthur (spirit of Arthur Fiedler?) changed the schedule. With the hurricane heading up the coast and thunder and lightning racing in from the west, the festivities were moved up by 24 hours. The fireworks went on early, barely ahead of the weather. WBZ didn’t have all their cameras ready and had to show the first half of the display from the helicopter cams. After a while, the rest of the cameras came on and it was even better than last year.

The live 1812 Overture was preempted by a massive lightning storm. Instead, WBZ broadcast a taped version (dress rehearsal?). Which was fine.

For the historically challenged, our Guv (Deval Patrick) offered up some history, what the music is about. NOT our War of 1812. The war going on across the pond. Napoleon. Russia. I think this was the first time I’ve seen them do that, so everyone got a bit of remedial European history.

No place does Independence Day like Boston. It’s our holiday. The rest of the country is a Johnny-Come-Lately. It happened here. The Declaration of Independence. The battles of Lexington and Concord.

Boston knows how to hold a party … and let’s not forget the howitzers, the most important instruments in the 1812 Overture. Nothing says independence day like artillery.

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When we lived in Boston, we could see the fireworks and hear the concert from our balcony in Charles River Park. It was one of the perks of living in Boston. If we wanted to get closer, we could stroll a few hundred yards west enjoy the party from the Arthur Fiedler footbridge over the Charles.

It was the best view in town. Watching it on television is okay too, now that we live in the country and getting into town is out of the question. Still, being there was the best.

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Boston has had a pretty good year. Nothing awful — other than the appalling collapse of our World Champion Red Sox — happened. Even more reason for us to get together and have a gigantic party to celebrate America’s birthday. The rain has put (ahem) a bit of a damper on it, but we’re adaptable.

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Now it’s time to watch Yankee Doodle Dandy again. We always watch it. It’s part of our personal celebration of being American.

When Garry and I were growing up in New York, the old Channel 9 had Million Dollar Movie. It was on not only every day, but several times a day and it played the same movies for a full week. The theme for the show was “Tara’s Theme” from Gone With the Wind. I had never seen GWTW, so when I saw it for the first time, I said “Hey, that’s the theme for Million Dollar Movie.”

I wasn’t allowed to watch TV on school nights and even then, only for a couple of hours on Friday and Saturday night. But, if I was home sick, I got to watch all the television I wanted. Better yet, I got to watch upstairs in my parents bedroom. The television was black and white (as were all televisions then). I don’t know if color TVs had been invented, but if they had been, no one I knew had one.

Channel 9 with its Million Dollar Movie was the movie channel, so whatever they were playing, I saw it a lot. They didn’t have a large repertoire. Odds were good if you got sick twice, you’d see the same movie both weeks.

Thus “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” the great James Cagney docu-musical was engraved in my brain. I believe that during at least three sick weeks (tonsillitis was my nemesis), I watched it repeatedly until I knew every word, every move, every song — except for the pieces the station randomly removed to make room for commercials.

No one danced like Cagney. No one had that special energy! Believe it or not, I never saw any other Cagney movie until One, Two, Three came out many years later.

Tonight, we’ll watch James Cagney dance down the steps in the White House. We always replay it half a dozen times. Can’t get enough of it.

In case you feel the same way, I’ve included it so you can replay it as many times as you want. Cagney won his only Oscar for this performance. I never knew he played gangsters until many years later. Million Dollar Movie didn’t play gangster movies.

Only one questions remains unanswered through the years. How come they didn’t film it in color? Does anyone have a sensible answer to that?