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Why should it not go on? Nothing in Austria has changed. Singing and music will show this to the world.... that Austria is the same. Heil Hitler!!
~ Zeller about his belief of maintaining Nazi rule over Austria.

Hans Zeller is the main antagonist of the 1959 musical The Sound of Music and its 1965 film adaptation. He started out as the mayor of the Austrian city of Salzburg, but later became the new Gauleiter of Austria following the Anschuluss (Austria's annexation into Nazi Germany in 1938). He is also the bitter nemesis of Captain Georg Von Trapp (one of the protagonists).

He was portrayed by the late Ben Wright in the film.

Role

Zeller first appeared at a veteran party that Captain Von Trapp and his governess Maria Rainer (the other protagonist) have arranged for their fellow Austrians. However, he is discomforted in seeing the Austrian flag displayed on the hallway and witnessing Von Trapp's children singing to the audience. As the Captain receives praise for his children's performance by several guests, Zeller calls Von Trapp an 'ostrich' before gloating that the Anschluss is coming, meaning that Austria would be taken over by Germany in no time, and that he would have to get his family to sing for the Nazis. Von Trapp then responded by claiming that Zeller would end up being the entire 'trumpet section' if the Nazis do take over Austria, a statement that left Zeller flattered.

However, Zeller's prediction became true as Austria was annexed into Nazi Germany, several days after Von Trapp and Maria were married. Appointed as the new Gauleiter of Austria by Adolf Hitler, Zeller is assigned to maintain Nazi order around Austria at all costs with a Nazi lieutenant Karl as his right-hand man. During preparations of the Salzburg Music Festival, Zeller confronted Von Trapp's closest friend Max Detweiller, who is busy preparing Von Trapp's children for the festival while Von Trapp and Maria are on their honeymoon in Paris. Zeller then assured to Max that the Nazi rule over Austria will remain and that the Von Trapps will have to get used to it despite their opposition to it. To ensure of this, he gets the local delivery boy Rolf Gruber to deliver a telegram to Von Trapp, detailing an offer for the Captain to accept a commission in the Kriegsmarine (the Nazi Navy) at the German Naval base in Bremerhaven (on behalf of Admiral Von Schreiber).

Though Von Trapp received the telegram after returning home with Maria, he has no intention in joining the Nazis and instead plans to flee away with his family; even tearing down the Nazi flag from his house placed by Nazi officers. However, the family's butler Franz (a Nazi supporter) has secretly alerted Zeller, who had several Nazi officers to surround the Von Trapp estate, catching the family trying to flee in their car. Zeller then announces that he was ordered by Hitler to personally escort the Captain to Bremerhaven for the commission. However, the clever Von Trapp states that he's actually delivering his family for the Festival tonight, with Max presenting out the concert program list to prove the Captain's point. Realizing that it would be much of a little delay, Zeller reluctantly allows this (if only to prove that nothing in Austria had changed after the Anschluss) by giving them an escort to the Festival, stating that he will force the Captain to go to Bremerhaven for the commission afterwards. To ensure of this, Zeller has his several of his men to surround the auditorium on guard duty.

During the festival, Zeller watches as the entire audience applauds for the family's singing voices, much to his annoyance. When Max publicly announces about the commission, the audience seems to be very displeased by this, though Zeller and his men smirk at this. The Von Trapp family then concludes their performance with their famous song "So Long" before exiting the stage. During the awards ceremony, Max gave the Von Trapp family enough time to flee from the auditorium by presenting out awards to the runner-ups, just as a Nazi officer informs that the family has fled. Realizing this, an angry Zeller has his Nazi officers to patrol the city and track down the Von Trapps. Eventually, their search reaches to an end in a church, where Rolf spots the Von Trapp family before alerting the guards. Fortunately, several of the nuns took the opportunity to sabotage the Nazis' vehicles, allowing the Von Trapps to escape to Switzerland while Zeller and his men tried in vain to start up their cars (the real Von Trapp family, whom the play and movie are based on, never actually went to Switzerland; they simply just took a train to Italy and then flew to USA).

It is unknown what happened to Zeller following the Von Trapps' escape as he wasn't seen or heard from again, although given that he failed a direct order from Hitler himself, it's possible he was reprimanded and was stripped of his role of Gaulieter (failing a direct millitary order was also at the time a court marshall offence) (he may even of, theoretically, been killed - since Hitler and Nazis in general took a very dim view of failure, especially in matters that Hitler himself took great interest in).

Quotes

Oh, come now, Baron. Would you have us believe that Austria alone holds a monopoly on virtue? (Von Trapp: Uhh... Herr Zeller, some of us prefer Austrian voices raised in song to.... ugly German threats.) The ostrich buries his head in the sand, and sometimes... in the flag. Perhaps, those who would warn you that the Anschuluss is coming... and it is coming, Captain... perhaps, they would get further with you by setting their words to music. (Von Trapp: If the Nazis take over Austria, I have no doubt, Herr Zeller, that you would be the entire 'trumpet' section.) You flatter me, Captain. (Von Trapp: Oh, how clumsy of me.... I meant to accuse you.)
~ Zeller gloating to Von Trapp about the upcoming annexation of Austria to Germany.
Herr Detweiller..... Heil Hitler! (Max: Good afternoon, Herr Zeller.) Perhaps you've not heard... I'm now the Gauleiter. Heil Hitler! (Max: Uh...... Heil Hitler.) I have just come from the house of Captain Von Trapp, incidentally the only one in the neighborhood not flying the flag of the Third Reich since the Anschuluss, but we have dealt with that situation. Your housekeeper told me that I would find you here.... it was the only information that the woman would give me. (Max: What kind of information are you looking for?) We want to know when the Captain will be returning. (Max: Well, he's on his honeymoon trip, he's not been in touch with us.) Are you asking me to believe that the Captain has not communicated with his children in over a month? (Max: Herr Zeller, how many men do you know who communicate with their children while on their honeymoon?) When he does return, he will be expected to fill his proper position in the new order.
~ Zeller learning from Max that Von Trapp is on his honeymoon trip with Maria.
Something wrong with your car, Captain? (Von Trapp: Yes, as a matter of fact, we couldn't get it started.) Karl.... fix Captain Von Trapp's car so that it will start. (Karl does so instantly) Excellent, Karl! (a moment of silence) I have not asked you where you and your family are going, nor have you asked me why I'm here. (Von Trapp: Well, apparently, we both have a deplorable lack of curiosity.) You were sent a telegram which you did not answer, a telegram from Admiral Von Schreiber of the Navy of the Third Reich. (Von Trapp: I was under the impression, Herr Zeller, that the contents of telegrams in Austria are PRIVATE! As least, the Austria.... I know.) I have my orders, and there to take you personally to Bremerhaven tonight where you will accept your commission.
~ Zeller confronting Von Trapp and his family of their attempt to flee.
And you're asking me to believe that you, Captain Von Trapp..... are singing in a concert?! (Max: Believe me, it will be a performance beyond anything even I've dreamt of.) (Von Trapp: Like you, Herr Zeller, I, too, am a man of.... hidden talent.) (Max: Yes... uh... here. Program.) It says here only the names of the children. (Von Trapp: It says the Von Trapp Family Singers.... and I am the head of the Von Trapp Family, am I not?) And these travel clothes that you're all wearing? (Maria: Our costumes, naturally. Herr Zeller, this night air is not good for the children's voices.) Well, a slight delay in my orders will not be serious. Therefore... you will sing. You will all sing.... but only because that's what I want. It will demonstrate that nothing in Austria has changed. And when you have finished singing.... you, Captain von Trapp, will be taken to Bremerhaven. Now, if you will all get into your car.... we will escort the Von Trapp Family Singers to the festival. (Von Trapp: No escort would be necessary.) Necessary? A pleasure, Captain. After all, we would not want you to get lost in the crowds..... would we? (Von Trapp: No.)
~ Heller being told that the Von Trapp family is attending the Salzburg Music Festival before reluctantly allowing this.
Open this gate! (Nun: Good evening.) Hurry up, woman! (the nun opens the gates) Two men in there! Six of you, spread out and cover the yard! You two, cover the corridor!
~ Zeller ordering his men to search around the church after deducing that the Von Trapp family is hiding there.

Trivia

  • A key difference between the movie and the play:
    • In the play, Zeller intends to have Admiral Von Schreiber to escort the Captain of his commission to join the Nazi Navy immediately, but Von Schreiber decided to wait as the Von Trapps are singing in the festival, much to Zeller's protests.
    • In the movie, Zeller intends to personally survey the Von Trapp estate and escort the Captain himself to Bremerhaven after the festival at all costs.

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