Remember Where You Came From

by Alex Leeb

The fees were paid and finally on August 19, 1950, we arrived by train at Swift Current, Saskatchewan.

Excerpt from Mover & Shaker Interview with Alex Leeb by Rose Mary Keller Hughes:

"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? (RMKH)

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." 

Remember Where You Came From

by Alex Leeb

        Salomea Loeb and her son Anselm knew the meaning of hard times. After the death of her husband, she and Anselm sought employment, but work was scarce in Bessarabia. So they traveled by foot and wagon westward to the Banat and settled in the Village of Knees. Salomea worked as a maid in the village and Anselm 16 at the time, worked as a hired man for a farmer. He was persistent, had lots of determination, and was not afraid of hard work.

        In 1933, Anselm married Teresia Lay from Knees. Their first child they named John, was born in October 1933.

        Their second child, born on the 19th of February 1936, they called Alexander (me). Apparently shortly after my birth, my whole body was covered with boils. My skin was red, my whole body was hot. I was told I cried constantly. On the third day, a gypsy happened to be walking by our house and heard me screaming. He stopped and asked my father what's the matter was with his child. My father explained the circumstances to him.

        My father asked if he would like to take a look at the child. The gypsy agreed and after examing my body, he requested they bring me into the barn along with as many blankets as possible. He laid me on a blanket, and requested a pail with manure.

        My parents were astonished when they observed the miracle at the gypsy’s hands. The gypsy covered my entire body with manure and wrapped me with the rest of the blankets. The gypsy came by our place three more times and gave me the same treatments. After one month the manure had managed to suck the poison out of my blood. The witch doctor said, if this hadn’t been done now, I would’ve died within a month’s time.

        It was compulsory for children to receive their education from grade one to seven. I attended school through sixth grade in Knees. If a student wished to continue further education, they would have to go to the city for high school, colleges, or universities.

        Our village population in Knees was about 3,000 inhabitants. Only ten per cent of the student population would continue their education. The majority of the students would likely go to Temeswar to further their education. Temeswar the capital city of Banat, is only 28 Km from Knees. The other students if so inclined, would learn a trade in the village. These trades were often taught on the job – barber, shoemaker, tailor, blacksmith, and woodcraftsmen.

        The population in Knees was about 3,000 inhabitants. Only ten per cent of the student population would continue their education. The majority of the students would likely go to Temeswar to further their education. Temeswar the capital city of Banat, is only 28 Km from Knees. The other students if so inclined, would learn a trade in the village. These trades were often taught on the job – barber, shoemaker, tailor, blacksmith, and woodcraftsmen.

      The oldest son would inherit the house and the farm. If there were two or three sons in the family, the second and third sons would learn a trade, or continue with their education. When a son got married, they would live with his parents, until they were able to build or buy their own home.

      The land owned by the farmers varied from 2 Joch (acres) up to 50 Joch (acres). When a farmer had 30-50 acres, he would then be considered in the higher class. When a-tradesmen owned a few acres of land, they would have it farmed by another farmer from the village. Farmers grew vegetables, fruits, and grain, after the growing season, vegetables, and fruits would be picked daily and sold at the marked places in Temeswar.

        The majority of the 3,000 inhabitants of Knees were German, Romanian, Serbs, and Gypsies in that order. The German population was 100% Catholic; The Romanian and Serb were Orthodox. It was commonly believed that the Gypsies had their own domination, which they believed in "stealing." That their Gypsy saying was; “why work, if you can get it free."

An Experience of a Lifetime

        September of 1943 was my first year in school. We were taught all subjects including German and religion. After school, we used to play soccer, other games, and playing solders on the streets.

       On August 23, 1944, Romania broke their Treaty Pact with Germany and signed a Treaty Pact with Russia. Because of this, it strengthened the Russian forces; allowing them to walk through Romania just like Hitler went through some of the European countries in 1939-40. With Romania being on the Russian side, their plan was to go westward into Hungary ahead of the Russians.

        In 1944, the German soldiers occupied our village. In spite of their presence, we would still have Romanian and Hungarian soldiers pass through on any given day. The German soldiers treated us well. 9 Km South of Knees, was the village of Billed, the headquarters for the German army, the population being all-German.

        The German soldiers occupied the Town Hall. Our parents were worried with the shooting going on, one of us might be killed, but as small children we never looked at it in such a perspective.

        Early one day, we were playing by the street and observed three wagons of soldiers entering the village from the East. They did not appear to be either Hungarian or Romanian soldiers. We were puzzled with the language they spoke. After they had passed us, we ran inside the house to tell our grandparents what we just had seen. We were told not to go out into the street anymore and to stay in the yard. As the wagons continued on into the village, we witnessed them picking up a young boy off the street, to direct them to the Town Hall. The boy was my cousin Josef. When they turned the corner going towards the Town Hall, he pointed the building to them. They released him and he ran all the way home.

        Immediately after he left the scene, there was machine gun fire for a couple of hours. Seven Hungarian soldiers occupied the building, four of them escaped to Billed where the German soldiers were and three were killed. The Russians had two casualties.  

        That same night, we knew the Russians would return. Several families gathered together in one of the neighbor's basement for the night. As the night progressed, we could hear the Russian soldiers entering he village, breaking into houses and taking the horses from the barns.

        With no communication with the outside world, we were shocked when we experienced the takeover of our village by the Russian soldiers. Our village was surrounded by German soldiers on the South and West side of the village and by Russian soldiers on the North and East. We were playing on the street at the time when the shooting began; a Russian soldier pulled me in the trench with him. He made me pass the machine gun ammunition to him. The sound of machineguns, the cry of people, to a nine-year-old boy, that was one experience I will remember for a long time.

        The following two weeks, we experienced hard times. The soldiers were raping women, as their children witnessed. Cries of children were heard daily due to what was happening to their mothers. A daughter of a 72-year-old man was taken to the barn with her father. Her father was tied up to a post and witnessed his daughter being raped by twenty different soldiers The Russians tried to push the Germans back towards Billed where their headquarters were.

        A few weeks later, the Germans found that the Russians were too strong for them. As the Germans slowly retreated, only one German soldier held the Russians back until the rest had retreated into Hungary and Austria.

        After these incidents, our mother was afraid to be alone with the children. She decided it was safer to be with our grandparents, so we stayed with them.

        A month later, the soldiers were gone and life was getting back to normal. The children had to attend the Romanian schools. They had to learn Romanian and Russian, but not German. We found it hard at the beginning because we didn’t know how to speak Romanian or Russian. We were well accepted by the Romanian students. I only studied German in my first grade but German was spoken at home. Because we were among Romanian children all day in school, we learned the Romanian language faster than anticipated.

The Introduction of Communism

        A month after the Russian soldiers had left our village, colonists from the Eastern part of Romania were brought to the Banat area. Some of the local gypsies were appointed as leaders of the Communist Party. They were given the authority to do whatever they chose. They demanded a head count of all German families in the village.

        While attending Sunday Mass, they entered the church and ordered the priest to have the church emptied in ten minutes. Everyone in the church would be shot, if orders were not obeyed. The following day the church was made into a barn.

        The houses, land, horses, cows, and wagons were taken away from the German people. The colonists and gypsies were given living accommodations, nine acres of land, one horse, one cow, and one wagon. Most of the houses were shared with German families.

        It was hard for the German people to watch their belongings being taken away from them. The land that was developed by their ancestors in the 1700's and passed down to them from generation to generation and suddenly vanished in one day.

       A month went by and we saw no work in the fields by the new owners. The new colonist were inexperienced in farming and failed to realize without actual labor, nothing could grow. Soon they approached the German farmers to buy their land back. Of course they didn’t have to ask twice, the German farmers were happy to get their land back. The farmers paid a large sum of money, for their previously owned land. The farmers were happy and so were the Gypsies, except there appeared a big problem. On Monday morning, the farmer arrived to work his land, but there were two other farmers who bought the same land. The person who sold the land was nowhere to be found.  It didn’t take the Gypsy very long to learn the Communist System. "What is yours is mine and what is mine is yours."    

"Black Day for the Donauschwaben"
January 14, 1945

        On January 14, 1945, the Donauschwaben men from the ages of 16-40 and women from the ages 18-39 were herded into boxcars, transported to Russia, and forced to work in the coalmines.

        Rumors were heard in the village, something might happen to the German people. On January 14, 1945, at 11 o’clock in the morning, two men entered our yard and knocked at the door. Without giving grandmother a chance to open the door, they had entered the house. There stood two tall men with clubs in their hands, swinging them back and forth. One of them took a piece of paper from his coat pocket; we could see that it was a list of people. Without asking any questions, he read the message on the paper; “You, Teresia Leeb, (my mother) are to report to the town hall no later than 2 o’clock in the afternoon on this day January 14, 1945. We recommend that you bring with you food and clothing for two days. If you fail to report by 2 o’clock your father must take your place. Should he also fail to report, he then will be taken as prisoner and will be shot.”

         After the two men had left, grandfather came in from outside where he had been feeding the chickens. He asked grandmother – “what did the two men want?” Grandmother had already started packing for my mother Teresia, as she told him the bad news.

[Published at by Jody McKim Pharr]