On July 15, 1937 the National Socialist government founded the Reichswerke AG für Erzbergbau und Eisenhütten “Hermann Göring” for the purpose of setting up and operating an iron and steel works in the Salzgitter region, which had been an exclusively agricultural area until that time. The choice of location was primarily influenced by desire to use the iron ore deposits in the local area to further Germany’s economic independence and support the regime’s armaments policy. Work began in the winter of 1937 to build what was planned to be world’s largest and most modern smelting plant.
The first pig iron produced exclusively from Salzgitter ore was manufactured in Salzgitter on October 22, 1939, shortly after the outbreak of World War II. The Reichswerke AG für Erzbergbau und Eisenhütten “Hermann Göring“ had meanwhile become a subsidiary of the Reichswerke Group. Under the leadership of the AG Reichswerke “Hermann Göring“ headquartered in Berlin, within a few years the Group had developed into a huge conglomerate extending beyond Germany’s borders that was ruthlessly and solely committed to the totalitarian aspirations of the National Socialist regime.
Workers and managers were recruited all over Germany as well as abroad to staff the iron and steel works in Salzgitter and the neighboring Group companies, and within a very short time the population in the region quadrupled. Their living conditions were poor, since the necessary infrastructure had to be developed in parallel with the plants themselves, and supply could not keep pace with demand. With the outbreak of war, rapidly increasing numbers of conscripts, prisoners of war, forced labor from abroad and also, from 1942 onwards, concentration camp inmates were compelled to work at the plant as well as at neighboring Reichswerke companies. Their living and working conditions were cruel and inhuman, and many lost their lives. Since 1994, a memorial erected on the site of the Salzgitter iron and steel works has served as a reminder of the suffering borne by the victims of National Socialism.
In April 1945 American troops occupied the Salzgitter area and the plant itself.
With the exception of the power station and the waterworks that were urgently needed to supply the local population, all of the plant operations were shut down. The forced laborers and many of the migrant workers left the region.