Stefania Celestyna Sondej (Manterys) was born in Zarogów. In 1936 her family moved from their small farm in Zarogów for a more prosperous life in the village of Podlipie, county Złoczów, Tarnopol province (now part of the Ukraine). Her parents wanted to be able to afford a good education for their children.
On 10 February 1940 the Russian army deported the family (along with 1.7 million other Poles in Eastern Poland) in cattle trucks to forced-labour camps across the Soviet Union. This Manterys family was taken to Yagshordin, Priludski region, Komi Republic in northern Russia, 200 kilometres south of Syktyvkar. Under conditions of slow starvation and extremes of climate they were forced to work in the taiga forest.
They were eventually released from this bondage after an amnesty for Polish deportees was issued by the Russians 31 August 1941.The family made their way south to meet up with other Polish refugees trying to join the Polish army being formed in Russia. They reached the town of Chirak-chi in southern Uzbekistan several months later in early 1942.
Weakened by lack of food, overwork, hardship and diseases, both Serafin and Celestyna died there within a very short space of time in March 1942 during a typhus epidemic. Their children were then evacuated with the Polish army under General Władysław Anders through Krasnovodsk on the Caspian Sea to temporary refuge in Isfahan, Iran. On 1 November 1944 they arrived in New Zealand as invited refugees, along with 733 mostly orphaned children, by the New Zealand Government. They were housed and very well looked after in the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua.
She studied at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree, and became a secondary school teacher. She was the first of the family to travel to visit relatives in Poland in 1959. Stefania married Leon Sondej (who shared the same history as the other Polish refugee children) in Wellington in 1964. They had two children – Adam and Stefan.
The full history can be found in the following books: