Chronicles of an atrocity

World War II veteran Larry Tillemans visits Wayzata to talk about his time as a clerk typist at the Nuremberg trials

Larry Tillemans, a sergeant with Patton’s 3rd Army, photographed in 1945 when he was 19 years old. (Submitted photo)
Larry Tillemans, a sergeant with Patton’s 3rd Army, photographed in 1945 when he was 19 years old. (Submitted photo)

As a clerk typist during the Nuremberg trials, Larry Tillemans, a sergeant in General George Patton’s 3rd Army, was tasked with documenting the testimony of Holocaust victims and Nazi war criminals after World War II.

Tillemans was one of 1,000 Army personnel assigned duty in 1945-1946 for the trials, which lasted 218 court days and included 360 testimonies and more than 200,000 affidavits.

For nine months after the war, Tillemans worked to transcribe eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust. It was a duty that deeply affected the 19-year-old Minnesotan. Tillemans said he would spend nights crying in his bunk, overwhelmed by the atrocities he was to enter into court record.

“You hurt night and day. … Women, children, all gassed. Put to death in those gas chambers where they thought they were going to get a shower,” he said.

Tillemans, 90, who is believed to be the last living clerk-typist from the trials, was recently the guest speaker at a Wayzata Rotary Club meeting.

At the afternoon event, Rotarian Bob Shadley, a retired Army general, introduced Tillemans as a great solider “committed to making sure that we all understand and appreciate the sacrifices that were made by many people during World War II so that we never ever again allow something to happen like the Holocaust.”

In his talk, Tillemans said he witnessed the trial of high-ranking Nazis captured following the war. Among the war criminals was Hermann Goering, who was Adolf Hitler’s second in command.

“There were about 24 of them sitting there on judgment and you had to walk past them. They looked like they could be just ordinary businessmen,” Tillemans said.

Of the 22 convicted, 12 were hanged, three were sentenced to life in prison, five were sentenced to 10-20 years, two were acquitted and two, including Goering, committed suicide.

Tillemans, 90, said he sees his burdens of witnessing and chronicling the atrocities of the Holocaust as an opportunity for education. During the past 30 years, Tillemans, who lives in St. Cloud, has traveled the state telling his story.

Larry Tillemans, who is believed to be the last living clerk-typist from the Nuremberg trials, speaks at an April 5 Wayzata Rotary Club meeting. (Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)
Larry Tillemans, who is believed to be the last living clerk-typist from the Nuremberg trials, speaks at an April 5 Wayzata Rotary Club meeting. (Sun Sailor photo by Jason Jenkins)

“I feel it’s history. How can 10 million people put to death just be ignored? … That’s one of the reasons that I have determination to do my part,” he said.

Tillemans estimates he’s given 400 to 500 presentations at churches, synagogues, schools and other assembly spaces.

As part of his April 5 visit to Wayzata, Tillemans showed an excerpt from the 2014 Emmy Award-winning documentary, “The Typist.” The hour-long film, made for KSMQ public television in Austin, follows Tillemans as he travels the state telling his story.

The film also touches on Tillemans’ struggles with alcohol and his path to recovery. In 1991, Tillemans got sober and began being open about his time spent at the trials.

“It was a sad experience listening and typing those testimonials of so many of those guys that had been in the camps,” he said.

It was around that time, Tillemans said, that he eventually learned work through the difficult process of forgiving the criminals he had heard testimony from decades ago.

“I had to,” he said. “You can’t keep it in your heart. It gets you to hate somebody.”

“The Typist” is available online at goo.gl/SDLesG.

Contact Jason Jenkins at [email protected]