Paying the Ultimate Price
Heinrich and Maria List
Heinrich List, a Catholic farmer who lived in the predominantly Protestant village of Ernsbach in Hesse, was murdered for harboring a Jewish acquaintance. When the arrest took place, the Jewish refugee managed to flee. He survived the war.
One morning, sometime in the middle of November 1941, Ferdinand Strauss, whose family had done some business with Heinrich List before the war, appeared at the List home. The deportations from Germany to the east had begun a month earlier, and Strauss felt that he was in danger. When he knocked on the door Heinrich was working in the fields, but his wife Maria did not hesitate to take the young man in. They harbored Strauss in their home until 16 March 1942, concealing his presence from the police and other village residents.
In March 1942, Heinrich List became embroiled in a quarrel with a Polish worker, and the latter denounced him to the Nazi village mayor. Ferdinand Strauss managed to escape in time, and was able to cross the border into Switzerland. (After the war, he emigrated from Europe, and died in New York in 1983.) Meanwhile, the local gendarmerie launched an investigation, and interrogated the elderly couple. After first denying the charges, Maria List broke down under pressure and confessed to the police. Questioned about his motives for hiding Strauss, Heinrich List reportedly said:
"It was merely that I felt sorry for him and let him stay because we had known him very well in the past and had good business relations with him."
List was arrested and sent to the Dachau concentration camp. On 10 October 1942, his wife received an official letter from the camp commandant, notifying her that her husband had died on 5 October in the camp hospital. The camp doctor stated that the cause of death was an infection in his lower leg. As was customary, his remains had been cremated. This was part of the camp authorities' common practice to conceal the real cause of death. To compound the widow’s tragedy, almost two years later she received another shattering message: the Lists’ only son, Jakob, was reported missing in action on the Russian front in August 1944.
On December 23, 1992, Yad Vashem recognized Heinrich and Maria List as Righteous Among the Nations.