The Reichswerke AG für Erzbergbau und Eisenhütten (PLC for iron ore mining and iron works) „Hermann Göring“ was founded on July 15, 1937. Iron ores from the Salzgitter area were mined for extensively and processed into armaments as part of the war preparations.
Tens of thousands of workers were recruited from Germany and abroad to build the industrial plants in the predominantly agricultural region and were put up provisionally in hut camps. Already two years after the work had been taken up, the first two blast furnaces were put into operation. Soon the Reichswerke were among the most modern and biggest ammunition manufacturers in the “Third Reich.”
The town planers developed a “national socialist model city” as the center of the new industrial region. Yet the lack of workers and material caused a delay in the realization of the enormous construction project. Even after 28 municipalities had been united as the city of Salzgitter on April 1, 1942, the city remained a mere add-on to the Reichswerke and kept its provisional character.
There were roughly 60 camps in the Salzgitter area. They reflected the entire National Socialist camp system. The camp inhabitants were in the city for various reasons, and few came voluntarily.
After the outbreak of the war the Reichswerke used prisoners of war and deported people from the occupied areas to ascertain the production of ammunition. When the SS set up subcamps of the big main concentration camps close to factories important for the war from 1942 on, three satellite camps of the concentration camp Neuengamme nearby Hamburg were set up in the Salzgitter area. In this context, minister of propaganda Goebbels coined the term “destruction through work.”
In April 1945, the Allies liberated about 40,000 prisoners of war, prisoners of concentration camps, forced workers and foreign workers in the Salzgitter area – more than half of the entire workforce of the Reichswerke.