The Remarkable Story of Larry Tillemans
- Blog Post by: Steve Hunegs
- June 22, 2012 - 5:00 PM
The story of Larry Tillemans is remarkable. He grew up in southwestern Minnesota in the 1930s with a family of brothers who were all Eagle Scouts. Serving in the United States Army in the European Theatre of Operations, Mr. Tillemans was assigned as a clerk typist to the United States prosecution team for the Nuremberg War Crimes where he ultimately witnessed a couple days of the trial and assisted with the prosecution of the Nazi defendants.
Over the last twenty years Mr. Tillemans has traveled Minnesota telling his story and describing the singular nature of the Shoah and the need to prevent a future Holocaust.
Hearing Mr. Tillemans tell his story made me wonder about life in southwestern Minnesota in the 1930s and 1940s for he was born in Minneota. Minneota is located in Lyon County--cities in Lyon County include Marshall, Tracy, Ghent and Cottonwood--although I don't know if these communities were cities in the 1930s and 1940s.
A wonderfully helpful source for life in Minnesota in the 1930s is Minnesota : A State Guide which was the Minnesota Federal Writers' Project contribution to the American Guide Series tasked with writing a one volume travel guide for each of the 48 states. The books were written between 1935-1943.
The Minnesota contribution to the series was published in 1938. (I have what appears to be a first edition which once belonged to a "Robert Erickson"--unfortunately it is missing it's foldout map.) Mabel S. Ulrich was the State Director of the Minnesota Federal Writers' Project. (The one reference I could find for "Mabel S. Ulrich" was a connection to "Mothers of America" which was published by the Minnesota State Board of Health in 1919.) The 1938 copyright was held by the Executive Council, State of Minnesota--which allocated the money for the writing and publication of the book to the Minnesota State Relief Agency.
The book conveys a great sweep. The Administrator of the state relief agency--Herman J. Aufderheide--notes the possibilities of visiting parts of Minnesota by "canoe, by automobile, and on foot" to see Minnesota's transformation from the days of English fur traders to the creating of the "great industries and co-operatives." Ms. Ulrich describes it as: "Even less did we realize the extravagance of compressing between two tours a State 84,000 square miles in area, whose interests and resources were as varied as its topography.”
Mr. Aufderheidie and Mrs. Ulrich probably didn't realize they were chronicling Minnesota on the verge of great change with the coming of the Second World War: a largely agricultural and mining state would evolve into an incubator for Fortune 500 companies and as a laboratory for the northern civil rights movement. (See Dave Kenny's splendid book: "Minnesota Goes to War: The Home Front During World War II"--Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2008.)
Capturing a flavor of southwestern Minnesota in the years immediately before Pearl Harbor is from automobile Tour 4, Section C: "Ortonville to Iowa line, 145.6 miles via US 75." Part of the description involves Ivanhoe, Pipestone and Luverne communities not far from Mr. Tilleman's Minneota. You read descriptions of co-operative creameries, municipally owned power plants, the municipal buildings in Pipestone made of red granite quarried from the area and the information that the James and Younger brothers hid out in the rugged rock country after the Northfield bank robbery of 1876.
In this year of observance of the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War, it is instructive to view from a historiographical perspective the treatment of Indians in the guide. The discussion of the Pipestone Quarries is straight-forward explaining with some detail the origins of Indian legend about Pipestone and the agreement among Indians to view the quarry area as neutral, sacred ground to be shared in common by all Indians. That said, Mr. Aufderheide's preface notes the procession of historical figures through Minnesota as the English fur traders, French voyageurs and "warring" Indians. To this day, these are issues with we struggle as a Minnesota society.
To watch an interview with Mr. Tillemans in which he discusses being a participant and eyewitness to history in connection with the first Nuremberg war crimes trial, please view this four-part series (part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4).
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