David Bathrick was born in New York City in 1936 and grew up in Darien, Connecticut, town of Gentleman’s Agreement fame. He went to Dartmouth, became the Big Green football team’s star linebacker, and joined the Marine Reserves. Since early childhood he had also developed a lifelong fascination with boxing, which years later led to his politically incisive commentary in the 2004 PBS documentary The Fight, about the two 1930s heavyweight matches between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. All of it reflected part of David’s personality and his prodigious ways of storytelling but was hardly predictive of his professional trajectory as a professor of modern German culture.

His interest in all matters German had been piqued during an American Field Service–sponsored summer high school exchange in Berlin in 1954. Between his sophomore and junior years in college, he took a year off to study history in Berlin and in...

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