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World War II Enemies Meet

December 24, 1998

ORTONA, Italy (AP) _ Fifty-five Christmases ago, they were fighting each other house-to-house in the central Italian town of Ortona, trying to kill rather than be killed.

This Christmas Eve, the German and Canadian soldiers who were once enemies gathered at tables in what had been Ortona’s bombed-out church to share a holiday meal together and savor their shared survival.

``Fifty-five years ago, I was burying our dead. Digging graves,″ said Bill Teleske, 79, of Edmonton, Alberta, who was a 23-year-old private during the 1943 battle for control of the Mediterranean.

``Tonight, we had a good bowl of hot soup together, a good supper, which is more than we had then,″ Teleske said.

``There’s no animosity,″ he said. ``The Germans say, `It was a very good fight _ unfortunately, you won.‴

The 29 Canadians talked, ate and shared old photos with seven German veterans _ like them, survivors of the Dec. 21-27 battle for Ortona. The bloodiness and the tight quarters of the fight between Canadian soldiers and German infantry and paratroopers earned it the name of the ``Stalingrad of the West.″

German survivors of the battle returned home to ignominy. Thursday night’s dinner at Santa Maria di Costantiniopoli gave them a chance to talk with others who understood what they went through.

``Soldiers don’t make war. Politicians make it. That is the point,″ said Joseph Klein, 78, of Wolssburg, Germany.

``It is very, very good,″ Klein said. ``We shook hands and we had a really nice conciliation dinner.″

Italian hosts served the town’s specialty of vegetable soup, as well as turkey and strudel in the church after a service by an Italian priest. Then, they left them to talk _ and heal the wounds of war.

``I wouldn’t go through it again for a million dollars,″ said Teleske. ``But now I’ve gone through it and come out alive, I wouldn’t miss this for a million dollars. Tonight is a wonderful night.″

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