Fritz Kreisler - one of the greatest violinists of hist time, if not of all time, recounts his experiences during World War I as an Austrian soldier. Four Weeks in the Trenches is a brief record of his fighting on the Eastern front in the great war, first published in 1915 after he was honorably discharged when wounded. He spent the remaining years of the war in America. He returned to Europe in 1924, living first in Berlin, then moving to France in 1938. Shortly thereafter, at the outbreak of World War II, he settled once again in the United States, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1943. This book is notable for being the first war book to actually be written by a famous violinist serving at the front. The material is presented with vigor and simplicity. One of the phenomena of war–the sudden transformation of the highly emotional, neurotic man of literary or artistic pursuits, accustomed to an atmosphere of refinement, culture, and luxury, into a primeval savage in the space of a few days–interests the author.
In trying to recall my impressions during my short war duty as an officer in the Austrian Army, I find that my recollections of this period are very uneven and confused. Some of the experiences stand out with absolute clearness; others, however, are blurred. Two or three events which took place in different localities seem merged into one, while in other instances recollection of the chronological order of things is missing. This curious indifference of the memory to values of time and space may be due to the extraordinary physical and mental stress under which the impressions I am trying to chronicle were received. The same state of mind I find is rather characteristic of most people I have met who were in the war. It should not be forgotten, too, that the gigantic upheaval which changed the fundamental condition of life overnight and threatened the very existence of nations naturally dwarfed the individual into nothingness, and the existing interest in the common welfare left practically no room for personal considerations. Then again, at the front, the extreme uncertainty of the morrow tended to lessen the interest in the details of to–day; consequently I may have missed a great many interesting happenings alongside of me which I would have wanted to note under other circumstances. One gets into a strange psychological, almost hypnotic, state of mind while on the firing line which probably prevents the mind’s eye from observing and noticing things in a normal way. This accounts, perhaps, for some blank spaces in my memory. Besides, I went out completely resigned to my fate, without much thought for the future. It never occurred to me that I might ever want to write my experiences, and consequently I failed to take notes or to establish certain mnemo–technical landmarks by the aid of which I might now be able to reconstruct all details. I am, therefore, reduced to present an incoherent and rather piecemeal narrative of such episodes as forcibly impressed themselves upon my mind and left an ineradicable mark upon my memory.
The outbreak of the war found my wife and me in Switzerland, where we were taking a cure. On the 31st of July, on opening the paper, I read that the Third Army Corps, to which my regiment (which is stationed in Graz) belonged, had received an order for mobilization.
Although I had resigned my commission as an officer two years before, I immediately left Switzerland, accompanied by my wife, in order to report for duty. As it happened, a wire reached me a day later calling me to the colors.