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El Diablo

Friday, December 21, 2007

Courtesy: Franklin Crawford, Cornell Chronicle

"The trouble with David (Bathrick) is that he does a much better job telling his own stories than anyone else ever could. This means talking about David ... is not nearly as much fun or as instructive as talking with him."

-- Leslie A. Adelson, Cornell professor of German studies, "The Trouble With David: Reflections on a Champ," New German Critique, No. 95, 2005, Special Issue for David Bathrick.

Caveat emptor, then, dear reader:

According to David Bathrick, some time in 1942 a Nazi U-boat crept undetected into Long Island Sound and prowled up the Five Mile River to Darien, Conn. It vanished having caused no obvious harm. The U.S. government tried to keep it secret, but the people of Darien learned about it, were outraged and held a town meeting. Their actions were swift and decisive.

"They canceled the instruction of the German language in the schools, which is why I never learned German then," says Bathrick. "I always thought it was a wonderful example of idealism: 'We'll stop them -- we won't speak their tongue!'"

That never stopped Bathrick, who was a child in Darien at the time. The Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Theatre, Film and Dance and professor of German studies at Cornell went on to a remarkably colorful and successful career in his chosen fields. He is moving to Bremen, Germany, after 20 years here -- and 17 years prior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During that time he's become a scholarly icon, loved and beloved by those who know him and work with him, and, for his involvement with the German SDS and the New Left in Madison, alternately fingered by the Stasi in Communist East Germany and by the FBI at home.

All that was ahead of him in the transformative year of 1954, when Bathrick spent a summer in Berlin living with a German family as part of the American Field Service high school exchange program. He was headed for Dartmouth by then, and the Berlin experience changed his life. He dropped out of Dartmouth between his sophomore and junior years and went back to Germany to study at the Free University of Berlin and in Munich. He bought a motor scooter and tooled around Europe, playing rugby (he was a 217-pound star lineman on the Dartmouth football team) and soaking up the culture -- of Berlin, especially.

"It was just a fascinating place -- it was before the wall -- and so I was constantly going into the East. You learn history in incredible ways when you're in the center point of a hot spot. And I just knew I would go back there."

The chronicle of Bathrick's remarkable academic career can be found in his curriculum vitae (see below). Or far better yet in the 2005 issue No. 95 of the New German Critique (NGC) that's dedicated to him (available through Telos Press --

And yet, other, let us say "very intriguing," facets of the man's background can be found in a Stasi file under the code name "Diablo." Stasi is short for Ministerium fr Staatssicherheit, or the secret East German police.

To read the rest of Franklin Crawford's piece, as found in the Cornell Chronicle Online, please click here.