“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world.
In fact, it is the only thing that ever has." ~Margaret Mead

Remembering Our Danube Swabian Ancestors

 Mover & Shaker

Alex Leeb

by Rose Mary Keller Hughes, DVHH Correspondent, 18 Jan 2005

The first person to be interviewed in 2005 is Alex Leeb.  Alex, as we all know, is a fountain of information and willingly shares it with all of us. He is one of the list members who was born in the Old Country and has lived the life that we have all been so interested in learning about.  So, sit back and enjoy our latest interview . . . 

Welcome, Alex, to the list of Shakers and Movers.

"Alex & Rose Marie Ibach"
on their 40th anniversary

Let’s start off with a bit of your background...

Well, I was born on February 19, 1936 in Knees, (Satchinez), a village in Banat, Romania. This village has been in existence since 1333.  My father, Anselm Leeb, was born in Emmental, Bessarabia, Romania; my mother Teresa (nee Lay) was born in Knees, Banat. 

My paternal grandfather, Eduard Leeb, died in 1917, in the Russian-Japanese War.  My grandmother, Salomea Wagner Leeb, and my father needed to find work to survive; since work was hard to locate in Bessarabia, they went west, the whole way on foot, to the Banat.  My father was 16 years old at the time. Grandmother and my father found work in the village of Knees. He worked as a hired man and Grandmother worked as a maid for farmers.  Two years later, my father seemed to be doing okay, so my grandmother returned to Bessarabia by herself.  Father had met my mother, the daughter of Anna Schneider Lay and Johann Lay, in Knees; they were married in 1933.  My brother John was born on October 1933 in Knees and I was born three years later. 

I had a complicated birth and. about three months after I was born, a disease had set in my blood resulting in my whole body being covered with boils.  According to my parents I was in much pain.  One day, a Gypsy came by the house, stopped and had a conversation with my father.  The Gypsy could hear me crying inside the house.  My father told the Gypsy about my illness.  With my father’s permission, he asked if he could see the baby. While the Gypsy looked at me, he requested that my father get  a blanket and meet him in the barn.  In the barn, my father observed the magic being performed by the Gypsy.  The Gypsy covered my whole body with manure and then totally wrapped me in the blanket. 

The Gypsy, told my father that he would be coming back at sunset daily for the next four or five days and would perform the same activity.  After a week, there were signs of improvement in my body.  The disappearance of the boils and the pain was not overnight—it took three months before my system returned back to normal.  

Wow!  That was some beginning to life!  Now, tell us about your schooling? 

I finished grade six in Knees, Banat. After we came to Lancer, Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1950, I attended school in Lancer, until the first of April in 1951.  Then we moved to Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada.  Because I did not know one word of English when we came to Canada., my greatest handicap was having to learn the English language.  Our curriculum in the Banat, was equal to the eleventh grade in Canada.  Yet, I had to begin in the first grade again in order to learn the language.  My first year in school in Canada, I covered eight grades!  In the fall of 1951, I entered High School.  At first, it was difficult because I had to spend extra hours studying, but everyday, things got better.  In the Banat, a child does not begin school until the age of seven.  In 1956, I graduated from St. Theresa’s Academy, a high school in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. 

Are you still employed or are you retired?  

I have been retired since 1994. 

Alex told me a little bit about when he was still working.  

He said that when he was a high school student he worked during the summers in the construction trade, building houses.  After his 1956 graduation from high school, he began working for the Canadian Pacific Railway in Medicine Hat, Alberta. 

Tell us a little about working with the railway. 

My first job was repairing and fixing box cars. I worked this position for two months; then in October 1956, I was asked to become an Assistant Agent.  It was an inside job and I was able to put my high school education to use.  I was the relief man for the all agents in Alberta when they went on their annual vacations. After I worked the Assistant Agent position for one year, I was asked to become a telegrapher for the company.  This was the same kind of deal as the Assistant Agent position, the telegrapher position was a relief position and I had to travel all over the province.  While I was in the telegrapher job, I had the opportunity of working in such beautiful places as Lake Louise and Banff in the Canadian Rockies.. In August 1958, I got my first permanent position with the company.  It was a telegrapher position, working from 4:00 in the afternoon until 12 midnight.  I worked in Banff, Alberta as a telegrapher for 10 years.  In 1958, my position was abolished and I got a telegrapher position in Calgary, Alberta.  In 1968, I fell in front off a moving train.   

Gosh, Alex, you do seem to have some major catastrophes in your life! 

I was lucky, I rolled to the side and rolled off the track—otherwise I would have been cut in half.  In 1972, I was asked to become a relief Train Dispatcher (Traffic Controller) in Calgary.  In 1976, I was once again able to hold a permanent position—it was a midnight position, but it was a job.  In 1978, I was asked to become a relief Chief Train Dispatcher for the Calgary Office.  In 1985 I became the Personnel Manager for our Department.  In 1994, all good things came to an end & I retired April 24th.

The Canadian Pacific Railway was an excellent Company to work for. They had good wages and good benefits. I don’t regret my time with them. 

What are your interests and or hobbies, Alex?  

I played golf when I was still working, but then. I had both of my hips replaced—one in 1995 and the other in 1996.  Since the operation, I don’t play golf much anymore. 

The Canadian Pacific Railway owns the Banff Springs Golf Course.  Since I was an employee of the company, I had free passes to play on the golf course.  Since it was free, I played 6 days of the week.  While playing on the golf course one day, I had the privilege of caddying for Mr. Bing Crosby who was vacationing in Banff.  Another time, I had the privilege meeting Robert Kennedy while playing golf in Banff.  

Currently, I like doing genealogy.  Well, that’s no surprise to the DVHH list!  

Are you married or do you have a significant other in your life? 

Yes, I am married.  Ah, yes, we see the beautiful Rose Marie in the photo on this page. 

How did you first meet Rose Marie?  

While I was working for the Canadian Pacific Railway in Banff, I ended up in the emergency room in the hospital—I had Hepatitis.  The second day in the hospital, a nurse came on duty at 3:00 PM (he even remembers the time!), she was put in charge to tend the patient by the name of Alex Leeb. 

I suppose it is every nurse’s duty to get more information from the patient.  While she was finding out about me, I noticed her nametag on her uniform—immediately I recognized the surname and asked her if she had a brother by that name.  Her immediate answer was a question. - Why did I want to know?   She knew she had me, because I was the helpless dying patient in the bed and she was the boss. 

Finally she said, “No, he is my first cousin.”  I said to myself, “Well, at least we’ve got something in common to talk about.”  Day by day, our conversations became longer, and longer.  On her days off, she would come to visit.  My parents came from Medicine Hat to visit me in the hospital in Banff.  After my father found out Rose Marie’s ancestors were Germans from Russia, and that she could speak the same dialect as we did, my father and Rose Marie hit it off immediately. After a while, my father told her that if she knew how to cook noodles and make strudel, she could marry me. 

If we had heard that romantic story before, we would have made you the Valentine’s Day interview, Alex.  What can you tell us about Rose Marie? 

Rose Marie Ibach was born on the tenth of December in 1935 in Fox Valley, Saskatchewan, Canada.  She comes from a family of 17 children; she is the second oldest child in the family. Her grandparents came from Baden, Russia.  Her grandfather was a schoolteacher in Krasna, Bessarabia.  What a coincidence!  Krasna is the place where my paternal grandfather was born.. Rose Marie’s parents were born in Saskatchewan, Canada. 

Rose Marie and I got married in 1963 on the 18th of May in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada.  We stayed in Banff until 1968; then we moved to Calgary, Alberta.    

Do you and Rose Marie have children, Alex? 

We have two daughters—Alixes, was born on January 13, 1966, in Calgary, Alberta and Felicia was born on October 2, 1972, in Calgary, Alberta as well.

Anything you want to share about them? 

Both of our daughters are not married.  They both work for Canadian Pacific Railway as Traffic Controllers in Calgary, Alberta.  Felicia is also the President of the Traffic Controllers’ Union. Both reside in Calgary.  Alixes has MS and up to now has no major complications.

I know you are very proud of the area in which you live, Alex.  In fact, at times I’ve believed you to be a member of the Tourist Bureau.  Tell our readers about your life in Calgary. 

We moved to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, from a small village, in 1972, and have been living here ever since.  Rose Marie and I are both retired.  We used to go dancing every Wednesday evening, but now we both have problems with our feet, so we gave that activity up. We both participate in social activities.  We both go to Mass every day; we drive a blind priest to church every morning as well as drive him to other places where he may need to go such as medical appointments, grocery shopping and so on.  The rest of the day, I keep myself occupied on the computer. 

What got you started in doing genealogical research?   

When I retired in 1994 and then had my hips replaced in 1995 and 1996, I was unable to maneuver around very well, so I decided that a computer would be a good toy for me to play around with.  After playing around and discovering what can be done on the computer as well as learning about the Internet, I never stopped entering questions.  One day, I entered the word “Banat”—I couldn’t believe the information I got back.  I was amazed; the information one could get from the Internet!  After I discovered what a person could do on the computer, I strictly focused on genealogy.  

In other words, you were “hooked!”  Is there anything about your family history that you would like to share with us?   

As I said in the beginning, I was born in Knees, Banat, and the second child of four children.  Life in my youth wasn’t exactly rosy.  Our life style was different compared to present-day living. We were poor—no running water, no electricity and we barely had enough to eat.  At the age of nine, I was helping my grandfather plow the fields. When I was six years old, my father was conscripted into the Army. When I was nine years old, my mother was taken away from us and sent to Russia to work in coalmines that were close to 200 feet underground.  Thank God, we had grandparents who looked after us.  In 1945, the Communists took everything away from us—houses, land, and life stock.  The Communists became the landowners and we became the slaves.

Our father became a POW in West Germany, and was working on a farm. He lost his father in 1917 in the Russian-Japanese War and now here he was a Prisoner of War in another conflict.   

In November 1946, my mother became very ill in Russia—their food wasn’t exactly the greatest—they got one loaf of bread and a pail of water with cabbage leaves in it. She was put into a boxcar and by mistake she ended up in East Germany instead of back home in the Banat.

In the meantime, my bother and I were living with our grandparents, helping dig the gardens and doing other helpful work.  We attended school where we had to learn Romanian and Russian.  School attendance was compulsory until the seventh grade.  If students wished to continue their education past the seventh grade, they would have to attend school in Temeswar. 

Here we were, torn apart as a family.  Our father was in West Germany, our mother was in East Germany, and my brother and I were in Knees with our grandparents.

My father had no schooling—when he was very young he never attended school because he had to stay at home and support his mother.  When they went to Knees, he had to work as a hired hand on the farms to help his mother put food on the table..  He had no schooling.  So here was my father in West Germany, illiterate due to his lack of schooling and unable to write to us back in the Banat, to let us know about his status.  However, we managed to get his address so we could communicate with him.  In the spring of 1947, we received a letter from our mother in East Germany.  We had not heard from her since she had been taken to Russia in January 1945.  Our grandmother cried from joy to find out that her daughter, our mother, was still alive. My grandmother was kept very busy corresponding with both our mother and our father. 

In the fall of 1947, we received a letter from our parents in West Germany. What had happened was that our father had crossed the Iron Curtain during the night and gone to the place where our mother was.  After spending a week with one another there, they both crossed the Iron Curtain and returned to the place where our father was living.  Shortly after their reunion, our parents began to work through an agent to bring my brother and me out of Romania so that we might join them in West Germany.  Our grandparents had to hire a lawyer in Temeswar to provide us with the proper papers to leave the country.  A year went by, but nothing happened—no word from the lawyer and no action from our parents in Germany. 

What happened then, Alex? 

My grandmother was a religious person; she went to Mass regularly and said her daily prayers.

One day her prayers were answered.  She had written to her sister in Saskatchewan, Canada, asking her if she would consider bringing our parents, who were living in West Germany, to Canada.  The reply from her sister in Canada was a blessing.  She agreed to bring them to Canada.   

In the meantime, a new addition arrived in our family. Our sister Anna was born in August 1948, in Germany.  On October 30, 1948, our parents and our baby sister arrived in Quebec City. After riding the train from Quebec City, they arrived two days later in Lancer, Saskatchewan.

When we received the good news that they had arrived in Canada, we all were really happy in Knees. 

Grandmother didn’t mind going to the lawyer again to change the destination on the papers to Canada instead of West Germany.  After corresponding with our lawyer in Romania and Canada, we departed for Canada on August 2, 1950.  It was difficult for John and me to leave our grandparents behind. 

After we left Romania and until we arrived Canada, we experienced many document complications.  We even spent some time behind bars at the London Airport because we did not have Canadian visas.  The authorities contacted our parents in Canada and told them they had to pay certain fees in order for us to get a Canadian visa and to continue our journey.  The fees were paid and finally on August 19, 1950, we arrived by train at Swift Current, Saskatchewan. 

As we got off the train, for the first in nine years, I saw my father standing on the railroad platform.  For the first time in five years, I saw my mother standing beside our father and our little sister whom we had never seen.  It was a great reunion for all of us. 

Besides going to school in Canada, what else was happening? 

I attended school in Lancer, until April 1, 1951.  In 1951, we moved to Medicine Hat, Alberta.

My father and brother John began to work in a brick factory and worked there until they retired.

I finished my high school education in Medicine Hat. 

In 1956, there was another addition to our family. Mary, our youngest sister, was born in 1957.

It is hard to believe, John and I, were born in Romania, Anna, our first sister, was born in Germany and Mary, our youngest sister, was born in Canada. 

When asked, “Have you been successful in your research, Alex?”  He replied:   

To my knowledge, yes. 

Have you hit brick walls?  


What is your suggestion to researchers, Alex?   

Stay on top of it, and keep in contact, and share your information with other researchers. 

Do you use software for recording your family?  If so, which one?

Family Tree Maker.  

Tell us about your research. 

Actually, I don’t do any research on my ancestors. – I’m pleased with what I have got. 

Who of all your ancestors has made the biggest impression on you?  Why? 

My grandfather, John Lay.  When we were without our parents, our grandparents brought us up.

My grandfather always favored me and he was proud of me and of my school report card.  I helped him with the yard work and I never refused him whenever he asked me to do something. 

Do you have an ancestral hero or heroine?  If so, what has made that person so special?

I must say, I am really happy for one of my first cousins, Martin Roos.  He was born in 1942 in Knees, Banat, Romania at the same time when his father was conscripted to the German Army. In January 1945, his mother was forced to work in the coalmines in Russia.  

While his mother was in Russia for five years, he stayed with his paternal grandparents. When his mother returned from Russia, in 1950, she couldn’t believe how much her son had grown.

When he finished his elementary education in Knees, Martin decided to become a priest.  The next year he left home for Alba-Julia where he entered the Seminary.  The University was totally Hungarian.  He did not know any Hungarian, but was determined to learn that language.  

In 1945, his father became a POW in England.  After being released, he went to Germany where he worked on a farm.  In 1952, he decided to join his sister in-law and brother-in-law in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada.

In 1956, Martin Roos, Sr. began to work with agents to make arrangements to bring his wife, Maria Roos, and their son, Martin Roos, Jr. to Canada.  The plan was not successful because there were many complications happening in Romania.

Alex & Bishop Martin Roos

Finally in February 1962, Maria and her son, Martin Jr. arrived in Canada.  Martin Sr. had not seen his wife and his son for 20 years.  Martin Jr., who was born in October 1942 after his father had entered the Army in August of 1942, had never met his father before.

In 1956, Martin Roos, Sr. began to work with agents to make arrangements to bring his wife, Maria Roos, and their son, Martin Roos, Jr. to Canada.  The plan was not successful because there were many complications happening in Romania. Finally in February 1962, Maria and her son, Martin Jr. arrived in Canada.  Martin Sr. had not seen his wife and his son for 20 years.  Martin Jr., who was born in October 1942 after his father had entered the Army in August of 1942, had never met his father before.

Because of the language barrier, Martin Jr. decided to finish his education in the priesthood in Germany.  In 1967, his parents joined him in Germany and in 1971; Martin was ordained as a Catholic Priest there.  After the 1989 Revolution in Romania, the Roman Catholic Diocese in Temeswar, Banat, requested assistance from Germany to bring the Catholic Church back to its standard beliefs.  In 1992, Martin Jr. was appointed as a Monsignor in Temeswar.  In 1996, he was appointed as Vicar General of the Temeswar Diocese.  On June 7, 1999, his father passed away on his birthday.  On June 7, 1999, the same day as Martin’s father’s death, Pope John-II appointed Vicar General, Monsignor Martin Roos, Jr. as the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Temeswar, Diocese.

What has been your most remarkable find in your research? 

Since I don’t do any research of my own, it pleases me and makes me happy when I help people to connect with relatives who are still alive.  I have helped many people locate their relatives in the Banat and Germany.  One example:  I helped Jody McKim in bringing her together with cousins in Germany.   One other occurrence was getting another Internet friend connected with his immediate relatives in Temeswar.  It makes me feel good when I can help somebody make his or her research successful.

Have you had an opportunity to visit your Donauschwaben Village?   

After we left our village in 1950, I returned in 1962. Then in 1978, I wanted to show my family where I was born; Rose Marie and our two daughters liked it very much because there was no stress. Our daughters were impressed when they saw the ducks and geese flying through the streets. 

Do you have a motto you live by?  Will you share it with us? 

Save your work; do it as soon as possible, before you forget it.  Try to stay organized. 

Are there sites or references that have been helpful and that you feel would be of benefit to the DVHH members? 

For beginners, I suggest ellisislandrecords.org will give leads to find the villages a person is researching, Ancestry.com is another site.  As for maps, here is my own map that covers the Banat, in Romania and Serbia: www.rootsweb.com/~romban/map/xymap.html.   

If you were confined to only one tip you might give a fellow researcher, what would it be? 

Once a person knows the name(s) of the ancestor(s) being researched, the place of origin is very important—where the ancestors came from.  Ellis Island is a good resource to find out where they came from.  In some cases, there might be a spelling variation of the family name; the Ellis Island site is not always accurate. 

Whether the information is taken from the Ellis Island or the Stader Books, the majority of the time the information will indicate either the ancestors came from Hungary, or in the Stader Book, it will state they are going to Hungary. 

The information will state, i.e. Billed, Hungary, or just Hungary.  Some people who are not familiar with the history and geography of the area might look for Billed located in Hungary.  This is where the geographic knowledge plays a major part in genealogy.  Some people have a problem grasping the history of  the past.  People should be aware of the reasons the German people from different parts of western and southern Germany, Alsace-Lorraine, Luxemburg, Galicia, Bohemia, Silesia, etc. emigrated to different parts of the world such as South America, North America, Austria, Eastern Europe—even as far as the Volga River in Russia.  

What was the 30-year war?  What was the 7-year war?  Why did they leave everything they owned behind in their original villages?  There must’ve been a reason?  People researching their ancestors should know the circumstances surrounding their lives.  It is very valuable information for a researcher.  Fewer questions would need to be asked if you knew the history of your ancestors.  Did all of them travel on the Danube?  As we now know, some of them did not qualify at Vienna to travel on the “Ulmer Schachtel” (barge) to Hungary. 

Some traveled by horse-pulled-wagon or on foot. The ones who traveled by horse-pulled-wagon or on foot had no land privileges when they arrived in the Banat or Batschka.  To survive, some worked as hired help.  Sometimes people could not find work and they had to go begging from other people in the village.  A person had to have a license (permit) in order to do house-to-house begging. 

If I would find the name of my ancestors on a piece of paper, would I be satisfied with just a name?  If I were just looking for the name, I might as well look in a telephone directory for the same names as my ancestors.  I would like to know everything behind that name.  Don’t listen to what others tell you about your ancestors—read and find out for yourself.  You will get more enjoyment out of it and will get to know your ancestors better.  If you have a photo, look at it and treasure it, because they are your ancestors. 

Thank you, Alex, for sharing so much with us.  It has been a pleasure getting to know you better.

[Published at DVHH.org by Jody McKim Pharr, 18 Jan 2005]

Alex & the DVHH . . .

DVHH Original Administration Team Member
DVHH Board of Directors 2007-2008
DVHH Mail List Administrator 2006-2008
DVHH Mail List Tags 2008-Present
DVHH Public Relations 2003-Present
Research Assistant & Mentor 2003-Present
Banat Regional Coordinator 2006-Present
Recipe Contributor
Banat Lookups Guide
Homeland Letter Transcriptionist
Village Coordinator: Baratzhausen, Billed, Hodon, Ketfel, Knees
See all Alex's Contributions: www.dvhh.org/banat_biographies/leeb-alex.htm

Thank you Alex for your contributions to the DS community and the DVHH Project!

Rose Marie & Alex

Updated: 26 Sep 2007






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