‘The Sound of Music’: The Real von Trapp Family Didn’t Escape Austria On Foot

Most people have seen The Sound of Music, and the few who haven’t seen the classic have at least heard of it. It is a timeless classic that captures beauty, love, family, and hardship. It was set during a time of struggle as another war was approaching, and Austria wasn’t far from being at the mercy of Nazi Germany. Like many other adaptations of true stories, The Sound of Music stretched the truth of the real von Trapp family’s ‘escape’ from Nazi Germany’s takeover in Austria. It wouldn’t be the only truth omitted or altered in the film, either. 

(L-R) Nicholas Hammond as Friedrich, Kym Karath as Gretl, Angela Cartwright as Brigitta, Julie Andrews as Maria, Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp, Charmian Carr as Liesl, Heather Menzies as Louisa, Debbie Turner as Marta and Duane Chase as Kurt singing, in black and white
(L-R) Nicholas Hammond as Friedrich, Kym Karath as Gretl, Angela Cartwright as Brigitta, Julie Andrews as Maria, Christopher Plummer as Captain von Trapp, Charmian Carr as Liesl, Heather Menzies as Louisa, Debbie Turner as Marta and Duane Chase as Kurt | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

‘The Sound of Music’ takes place in Austria

The Sound of Music is set around 1938 in Austria, with the onset of WWII looming nearby. It focuses on a kind and gentle woman named Maria, who was sent to be a governess for a widow, Georg von Trapp, and his seven children. Georg is strict and grumpy with his kids since his wife died, and his kids are so difficult, they scare away all their governesses. Nonetheless, Maria takes on the challenge with a lively, happy, and motherly approach. She brings happiness and music back to the family and eventually falls in love with and marries Georg. 

As they’re coming back from their honeymoon, the von Trapps are no longer happily singing and dancing in Austria as they learn of Germany’s takeover, and Georg is requested to join the German Nazi Army and wave their flag in his yard for support. Against everything the Nazis stand for and fearing for their lives in the country, they decide to head for the Swiss border to get away. They run into a small problem with a Nazi Party leader but convince him they’re heading to a festival to sing. During a major distraction at the festival, they make their escape through the Alps to freedom.

Some fans believe the family pretended to go on vacation to Italy

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Although viewers see the von Trapps heading on foot over the Alps, many believed, as reported by Refinery 29, “The real family whose saga inspired the movie actually pretended they were heading to a vacation in Italy, just one day before the Germans shut down Austria’s borders.” However, that is a misconception.

The Trapp Family Singers had originally resided in what is now modern Italy before relocating to Austria, which gave them Italian passports, allowing them to leave Austria without an excuse, as reported by Smithsonian Magazine. Following their time in Italy, they briefly went to London, and then onto the United States on a singing tour, according to the National Archives.

The real von Trapp family and the reality of their ‘escaping’ Austria and fleeing Nazis

The Sound of Music was based on the true story of the von Trapp family, with more than a few embellishments in the storylines. Facts revealed in the National Archives say a slightly different story than the one told on screens. Among many revelations, some characters aren’t portrayed accurately, and the reality of their ‘escaping’ Austria and fleeing Nazis is different from the film. 

According to the National Archives, Maria “tended to erupt in angry outbursts consisting of yelling, throwing things, and slamming doors,” although she was mostly sweet. Georg wasn’t the mean and strict father seen in the film but rather “a gentle, warmhearted parent who enjoyed musical activities with his family.”

As far as their ‘escape’ from Austria, the National Archives explain that not only did they leave by train, but Georg and Maria were married for “11 years before the family left Austria, not right before the Nazi takeover of Austria.” They were also having many hardships with the depression and already considering singing in America before Georg “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,” and were “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.”

[Correction 12/10/2020: An earlier version of this story referred to the von Trapp family as the ‘Trapp’ family. An earlier version of this story stated the von Trapp family pretended to escape to Italy when they were simply returning. An earlier version of this story did not identify the group as The Trapp Family Singers. An earlier version of this story included a misleading quote attributed to Maria from Opera News.]