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Bringing NZ and Poland together

Stan Manterys

At only nine years old, Stanisław Manterys became one of New Zealand’s first post-World War II refugees. Now, at 87, he’s been awarded an Order of Merit.

Manterys arrived in Pahiatua with a group of Polish children in 1944 and has actively contributed to Polish community groups in Wellington and Auckland with the aim of maintaining their heritage and easing their transition into New Zealand culture.

Manterys said he was four years old when his family was deported to Siberia by Russia for slave labour.

He and his six siblings lost their parents in “tragic circumstances” while they were still in the Siberian camp.

When Russia and Germany went to war, all people held captive at the camp were released.

“My eldest brother was killed in the war, and my four sisters and I were part of Polish children refugees to New Zealand.”

Before they made it to New Zealand, they were taken to Iran by the Polish army.

“There was nowhere else to go.”

Manterys said he and other refugees stayed in Iran for two years.

But when Russia and Germany threatened to invade Iran, refuge was found in New Zealand, Mexico, British Colonies of Africa, and India.

“The New Zealand Government at the time invited us 733 polish children and set up a camp for us in Pahiatua.”

Manterys and his siblings lived in that camp for five years, and remained in New Zealand for the rest of their lives.

He said the government had planned to send the refugee children back to Poland, but because the nation was under Russian control, and Russia had displaced them, they couldn’t return.

“We found ourselves literally stranded in New Zealand until the government invited us to stay here as long as we wished and to go back when Poland was free, well that didn’t happen until about 40 years later, so we found ourselves living our lives in New Zealand.”

In his early life, Manterys struggled with cultural clashes and spoke very little English.

He said his education with the Polish refugees, including boys camp, had been in Polish, but he was eventually transferred to an English-speaking school.

He said his family and cultural upbringing helped him decide to help other refugees coming to New Zealand.

“My culture is that you are not a tree in a forest all by yourself; you are in a forest with many other trees.”

Manterys said he had a personal stake in helping other refugees because he was one too.

“I knew the problems they had first hand, so when the refugees started to arrive from Africa to New Zealand, they had the same situation as me except they had it worse because they didn’t speak any English … they were also illiterate.”

He said the African refugees faced another challenge in New Zealand, the colour of their skin.

Manterys said it had been easier for him to blend in because he was European.

For many years, he helped African refugee families to settle in New Zealand, including with day-to-day needs and problems.

He helped Polish refugees during the solidarity freedom movement, including providing accommodation in his home.

Manterys has promoted New Zealand’s welcome to refugees through books, articles, newspapers, television and radio interviews, in New Zealand and Poland, mainly focusing on the history of the Polish refugees in New Zealand.

He said one of his main works was New Zealand’s First Refugees: Pahiatua’s Polish Children in both English and Polish.

“The book has been used as promotion material by the New Zealand Government, bridging New Zealand and Poland.

“The Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time said two things that he could think of in common between Poland and New Zealand: They had never fought a war between themselves and the Pahiatua children.”

Manterys said if he hadn’t been representing the Polish and refugee communities, he would have politely declined the award.

“I’m not a big fan of distinctions, I find that a lot of brilliant people live on this earth and a great big portion of them are doing a marvellous job of looking after other people,” he said.

“I don’t believe I did anything earth-shattering … I think what I have done is what many other people had done too.”

Manterys has also been awarded two Order of Merit medals from the Polish government for his contributions. But when Russia and Germany threatened to invade Iran, refuge was found in New Zealand, Mexico, British Colonies of Africa, and India.

“The New Zealand government at the time invited us 733 polish children and set up a camp for us in Paihiauta.”

Manterys and his siblings lived in that camp for five years, and remained in New Zealand for the rest of their lives.

He said the government had planned to send the refugee children back to Poland, but because the nation was under Russian control, and Russia had displaced them, they couldn’t return.

“We found ourselves literally stranded in New Zealand until the government invited us to stay here as long as we wished and to go back when Poland was free, well that didn’t happen until about 40 years later, so we found ourselves living our lives in New Zealand.”

In his early life, Manterys struggled with cultural clashes and spoke very little English.

He said his education at the camp had been in Polish, but he was transferred to an English-speaking school.

He said his family and cultural upbringing helped him decide to help other refugees coming to New Zealand.

“My culture is that you are not a tree in a forest all by yourself; you are in a forest with many other trees.”

Manterys said he had a personal stake in helping other refugees because he was one too.

“I knew the problems they had first hand, so when the refugees started to arrive from Africa to New Zealand, they had the same situation as me except they had it worse because they didn’t speak any English… they were also ilitterate.”

He said the African refugees faced another challenge in New Zealand, the colour of their skin.

Manterys said it had been easier for him to blend in because he was European.

For many years, he helped African refugee families to settle in New Zealand, including with day-to-day needs and problems.

He helped Polish refugees during the solidarity freedom movement, including providing accommodation in his home.

Manterys has promoted New Zealand’s welcome to refugees through books, articles, newspapers, television and radio interviews, in New Zealand and Poland, especially focusing on the history of the Polish refugees in New Zealand.

He said one of his main works was New Zealand’s First Refugees: Pahiatua’s Polish Children in both English and Polish.

“The book has been used as promotion material by the New Zealand Government, bridging New Zealand and Poland.

“The Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time said two things that he could think of in common between Poland and New Zealand: they had never fought a war between themselves and the Paihiatua children.”

Manterys said if he hadn’t been representing the Polish and refugee communities, he would have politely declined the award.

“I’m not a big fan of distinctions, I find that a lot of brilliant people live on this earth and a great big portion of them are doing a marvellous job of looking after other people,” he said.

“I don’t believe I did anything earth-shattering… I think what I have done is what many other people had done too.”

Manterys has also been awarded two Order of Merit medals from the Polish government for his contributions.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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