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Typing pages of history

Last-living transcript typist from the Nuremberg War Trials

When Larry Tillemans was contemplating what classes to take prior to his sophomore year at Minneota High School in 1942, his mother urged the teenager to enroll in a typing class.

“Because my two brothers and my sister had taken typing, my mother felt I should, too,” said Tillemans. “She said ‘Lawrence, I think you should take typing.’ But I told her that I thought typing was for girls.”

Mom was the victor, and when Larry showed up for the first day of class, there were 20 girls and one boy in attendance.

“I was the one boy,” Tillemans laughed. “I rather enjoyed it, though.”

Unbeknownst to Tillemans, that class would eventually be the reason he was involved in one of the world’s most historic events. His journey from that typing class to his place in history is being told by co-producers David Klassen and Chuck Czech in a one-hour documentary, called The Typist.

The documentary, about the World War II Nuremberg and Dachau War Trials aired on PBS affiliate KSMQ in Austin, Minn., in early December. It is also available for viewing via a link by visiting The Typist is also expected to air on other PBS affiliates throughout the state in the future.

Tillemans, a 1944 Minneota graduate, was only 19 years when he was one of 10 clerk typists from Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army assigned to a prosecution team that documented the affidavits of over 200,000 survivors of the Holocaust.

He also spent hundreds of hours in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg and within the walls of a former concentration camp in Dachau taking notes and later typing the statements from captured Nazi leaders as told through Trials of 1944-45.

Each of the Allied Forces four major war powers — the United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom and France — were represented by one judge, one alternate and one prosecutor.

There were 19 defense lawyers, mostly all German. Nuremberg was chosen as the location for the trials because it was considered the birthplace of the Nazi party and the Allied Forces felt it would be a fitting place to mark the party’s demise.

The Palace of Justice was spacious and also one of the few remaining buildings intact following the extensive bombings, and the complex also included a large prison.

During the trials, Tillemans was able to look into the eyes of those maniacal Nazi officials responsible for perpetrating the Holocaust in an attempt to establish a New Order of absolute Nazi Germany hegemony in continental Europe.

Through an interpreter, he heard their rants and excuses as each attempted to explain their reasons for the murders of so many innocent men, women and children.

“To sit there and listen to all the terrible things these men had been responsible for affected me a lot,” said Tillemans, 87, during an interview at his assisted living apartment at the Country Manor in Sartell. “There were many nights that I would cry myself to sleep.” His sadness transformed into anger as the trials continued.

“I had a lot of hate for the Nazis for years,” said Tillemans. “But I later realized you can’t be a Christian with hate in your soul and mind. So I turned to God for help.”

The hatred that Tillemans, a sergeant who was stationed in Germany for two years, had developed came from learning about the unimaginable stories unfolding during the trials. The numbers were staggering — over 10,770,000 Jews, Russians and gypsies were killed following orders from officials of the Nazi regime.

Jews were viewed as the great enemy of the German people and the others were deemed racially inferior.

Most were either gassed or cremated. The crematoriums were run by Kapos, prison guards who testified to burning bodies for 14 hours a day.

“I typed data interviews from the survivors,” Tillemans explained. “There were a lot of written testimonials, and they all had to be typed out so they could go into the files of the official recordings (of the Holocaust). That experience taught me to have a tremendous respect for the Jewish victims.”

When the United States and other allies of World War II were gaining control and the German military was on the verge of total collapse, Adolf Hitler, the dictator of Nazi Germany, and his wife, Eva Braun, went into a bunker and killed themselves on April 30, 1945.

Reportedly, Hitler shot himself and Braun took a cyanide capsule to avoid capture. Per Hitler’s request, their bodies were quickly removed from the bunker, doused in petrol and burned by German military personnel.

Had Hitler been captured before he was able to take his own life, he would have been among the 24 that were put on trial and found guilty. And Tillemans would have been seated in the same room and looked into the eyes of one of the most despised leaders in history.

“I never really thought about that before,” said Tillemans. “I would have probably had even a lot more hate if he had been there, too.” The Nuremberg War Trials began on Nov. 20, 1945.

Tillemans took notes and later typed the statements of Hermann Wilhelm Goering, originally the second-highest ranked member of the Nazi party and the designated successor to Hitler.

Goering, who surrendered to the Allied Forces on May 20, 1945, was responsible for the creation of concentration camps and the Gestapo, the official secret Nazi police. He was among the 12 sentenced to be hanged but committed suicide in his cell the day before his scheduled execution.

Another official sentenced to death was killed trying to escape. The other 10 officials were hanged on Oct. 16, 1946.

“(Goering) was in the courtroom for several days during the trials,” said Tillemans. “He would scream in German and point his finger at the prosecutors so we didn’t know what he saying unless an interpreter would inform us. Jerry Boe, a friend of mine from Crosslake, (MN), was a prison guard from the Third Army and was one of the men who found (Goering) dead when they went to check on him.”

It is believed that Tillemans and Boe are the only survivors from the Third Army unit.

Larry Tillemans at his kitchen table in Sartell. Tillemans was a clerk during the World War II Nuremberg and Dachau War Trials                Photo by Scott Thoma

Larry Tillemans at his kitchen table in Sartell. Tillemans was a clerk during the World War II Nuremberg and Dachau War Trials Photo by Scott Thoma

Beginning in 1991, Tillemans was determined to educate the people of Minnesota and neighboring states on what really led to the war trials after he had heard two college professors tell inaccurate stories on television.

Tillemans estimates that he has given talks to over 450 groups, including schools, colleges, prisons, churches and other organizations. Boe has joined him on a few of those presentations.

It was during one of his talks that he caught the eye of Czech, who has residences in Austin and St. Joseph.

“I saw on a poster about Larry at a local restaurant and decided to attend his talk,” said Czech.

“It was very interesting and that’s when I decided it would make an interesting documentary.”

Czech, the program manager at KSMQ, is the executive producer of The Typist. Klassen, who lives north of Sartell, is the editor, producer and one of the cameramen. Czech and Klassen have worked on projects together for 10 years.

Film crews followed Tillemans around for two years, conducting interviews and taping his speeches.

When the project was complete, Tillemans and his six children were able to watch the premiere together recently at his residence. Three of his children are from Minnesota, and the other three traveled from California, Wyoming and New York for the viewing.

“I was very impressed,” said Dan Tillemans, who lives in New York. “I would be critical if it wasn’t.”

Therese Presler, Tillemans’ daughter who lives in Sartell, came away with a positive view of her father’s story.

“I really thought it was well done,” she said. “I’ve been to a lot of his talks so I know his story well. I’m proud of (my father) for educating as many people as he can.”

Some of Tillemans’ children are interviewed in the documentary. His wife, Josephine, passed away four years ago.

“Larry has an excellent spirit,” said Czech. “He is upbeat and charming. You can really see the patriotism he has and his pride in serving our country.”

Tillemans stopped traveling to speaking engagements recently because of health reasons. He suffered a stroke a few years ago and back injuries have recently relegated him to a wheelchair.

“I’ll probably never forget what happened over there,” he said, somberly.

“And I don’t want anyone else to forget it either. We should never forget the Holocaust.”

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