By Lisa Meisch, Archivist/Museum Curator
Dachau was the first regular concentration camp set up by the Nazi government. It was located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the northeastern part of the town of Dachau, about 10 miles northwest of Munich, Germany. The internees were initially political opponents of the Nazi regime, such as German Communists, Social Democrats, and trade unionists. Over time, other groups including homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gypsies, and Jews were also interned there. The number of prisoners incarcerated in Dachau between 1933 and 1945 exceeded 188,000, and the number who died there between January 1940 and May 1945 was at least 28,000. It is unlikely that the total number of Dachau victims will ever be known.
Seventy-five years ago, on April 29, 1945, as World War II was drawing to a close in Europe, the Dachau concentration camp was liberated by the United States Army. In early May, Army medical corps units entered the camp to care for the ill and emaciated survivors, many of whom were suffering from typhus, tuberculosis, or other diseases. One of the first such units was the 116th Evacuation Hospital, to which Liberty, Texas, native Thomas Samuel (Sam) Partlow was assigned.
Sam Partlow compiled a scrapbook documenting his military experiences in Europe, including his unit’s time at Dachau. It includes numerous photographs along with details of his service and some clippings concerning the Nazi concentration camps. Entitled “Snaps and Scraps: My Life in the Army,” the scrapbook is one that was created especially for service members. This scrapbook is housed at the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center.
A page in the scrapbook records Partlow’s unit assignments. He was assigned to the 116th Evacuation Hospital on September 15, 1944, at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and left with his unit for the European Theater of Operations (E.T.O.) on October 26, 1944. A handwritten notation on this page shows the time period of his unit’s arrival at Dachau.
On this page are photos of the Dachau concentration camp. On a typed label at the bottom of the page, Partlow identifies his unit’s quarters; the gate at Dachau; the hospital wards, which had previously been quarters for the Germans; quarters of the 127th Evacuation Hospital, a second Army medical corps unit assigned there; and an underground air raid shelter.
On the next page is a photo of Partlow with some other service members, probably from his unit, in front of the clinic building at Dachau; a tank at the camp; and a photo of unidentified buildings at the camp.
The photo of Partlow and the other service members from the previous page: “Bill, Chad & DeWitt, Sam and Dick.” (Partlow is second from right.)
In another collection housed at the Sam Houston Center, the June Steusoff McGuire Collection, is a letter Sam Partlow wrote to June, a Liberty friend, in which he gives a first-hand account of the gruesome conditions at Dachau:
There were forty thousand Russians, French, Poles, Slavs, etc. here as forced labor and there is no telling how many had been killed the past few years. Upon our arrival we found hundreds that had been gassed and some shot who had been stacked like wood waiting to be put into the big ovens to be burned. It was an awful sight. A worse sight than that are those who are living now. Most of them are nothing more than walking dead…
After the war, Sam Partlow returned home to Liberty where he worked as a farmer and rancher and was active in his church and community until his death on August 27, 2004. Like countless other World War II servicemen who witnessed the horrific results of the Nazi regime’s atrocities, the experience no doubt changed him forever.
The finding aid for the Thomas Samuel Partlow U.S. Army Scrapbook is on Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO). The scrapbook is available to researchers at the Sam Houston Center.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/dachau