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The roots of the modern city of Heidelberg stretch back to the fifth century in the village of Bergheim, which means "Mountain Home." Bergheim now sits in the middle of Heidelberg. The population was converting to Christianity in the ninth century AD. The monastery of St. Michael was founded in 863 on a wooded hill on the site of a Celtic fortress. Heidelberg University, established per the orders of Pope Urban VI in 1386, remains one of the most prestigious universities in Europe.

During the run-up to World War II, the city was a stronghold of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, which was the strongest party during the 1933 elections. One month after Hitler's ascent to power in 1933, all university staff who were not Aryan faced heavy discrimination. By 1939, more than a third of the teaching staff was forced out of the university because they were Jews.

On November 9, 1938, Kristallnacht happened. Kristallacht, or "Crystal Night" in English, was the organized violence and property destruction which took place throughout the country. The name comes from the massive amount of glass shards that were everywhere in Germany after windows of Jewish-owned synagogues, shops, and buildings were smashed. During the night, two synagogues in Heidelberg were burned to the ground, and untold damage was done throughout the city. On November 10, the Nazis began to systematically deport 150 Jews to Dachau concentration camp. On October 22, 1940, they sent 281 more Camp Gurs concentration in France. Within months 201 of them had died of hunger and disease.

On March 29, 1945, German troops departed from Heidelberg, but not before destroying the Karl Theodor Bridge, more commonly known as the Old Bridge, as well as the newer bridge downstream. The very next day, the United States Army entered Heidelberg, and the civilian Heidelbergers surrendered with no resistance.

Shortly after the war, the university reopened. While the American Army was still occupying Heidelberg, on December 9, 1945, United States Army General George S. Patton had his fatal card accident in the neighboring town of Mannheim. He died in the Geidelberg US Army hospital less than two weeks later, on December 21.

There are many people who think that Heidelberg was left intact, having experienced relatively minor bombing, because the American army wanted to use the city as a garrison once the war was over. But what appears to be the true reason is that Heidelberg was an academic center, not an industrial center or transportation hub, so there was little reason to bomb the city. Gottiingen, Bamberg, and Tubingen were also towns and were spared the complete devastation dealt to most other cities.

 

 

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