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I recently came across a citation from the findings of the Nuremberg war crimes tribunals, specifically pages 568-570 of the Individual Judgment against Waldemar Klingelhöfer in the Einsatzgruppen case, in which the Tribunal found Klingelhöfer to be unrepentant and recorded this in its judgement:

  • The Tribunal finds from all the evidence that the defendant accepted the Führer Order without reservation and that he executed it without truce.

I have never come across this meaning of truce before. The author seems to intend it to mean qualms, hesitation, second thoughts, mercy or some such moderating influence. None of the authoritative dictionaries give this word any meaning other than "a short interruption in a war or argument, or an agreement to stop fighting or arguing for a period of time" (Cambridge). Even the complete OED has only "a suspension of hostilities for a specified period between armies at war (formerly also between combatants in a private feud or quarrel)".

Has anyone else come across this usage of truce?

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    While it may be correct, as noted in an answer below, it is a poor choice of words in translation of a 1930-1940s statement if it was not originally made in English, and an obscure sense of the word.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 12, 2023 at 0:57
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    M-W, Collins, Dictionary.com, AHD and RHK Webster's carry this sense. Apr 12, 2023 at 11:16
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    I can see "without truce" used with this meaning in late 19th century texts, so it's probably an old usage no longer common in the 21st century. e.g. William Swan Plumer 1871 describes sin as "implacable, without truce", and an undated translation of Jacques Roumain describes farming thus: "the earth is a battle day by day without truce". It may come from French (Roumain's language) trêve literally "truce" but figuratively a cessation or suspension of an action, especially one which is harsh or dangerous.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 12, 2023 at 12:01
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    I don't see it as without delay, as noted in user66974's answer, but without let up, or relentlessly. Commenting here, however, as I don't find it an enormous stretch to suggest the Cambridge definition matches the statement (though I'd more expect it in a creative context, not tribunal reports), if the 'interruption' aspect is taken as the main thrust and 'war or argument' can be allowed to mean actions causing (or based on) conflict. What was the particular order that was executed?
    – mcalex
    Apr 12, 2023 at 12:07
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    @ohwilleke I would also go for a translation "error". In French too, "trêve" can figuratively mean "pause, rest, break", and "without truce" can logically mean "without delay, immediately" (or "relentlessly, unceasingly"). Since the meanings can be derived fairly naturally, if I were to translate it I would assume it's the same in English and see no issue translating the word literally Apr 12, 2023 at 12:41

3 Answers 3

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Merriam-Webster has a second meaning of truce:

a respite especially from a disagreeable or painful state or action.

So “without truce” in the contest can suggest “without delay”.

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The german word for 'truce' is waffenstillstand: literally a cessation (standing still) of weapons.

Google translate offers the following ways of translating the German word standstill on its own as follows:

  • stop
  • halt
  • stoppage
  • interruption

The use of the English word truce sounds to be like what is known as a 'false friend' mistake. What is meant by that is that someone somehow went from German 'stillstand', used to indicate that the prisoner not only carried out the order, but persisted in carrying it out without pause or interruption, to the English truce not noticing the absence of the 'waffen' bit on the front of stillstand.

That's the best I can do.

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  • +1 "persisted in carrying it out without pause or interruption". The use "without truce" is metaphorical and "carries water" here. ; )
    – J D
    Apr 12, 2023 at 15:10
  • Interesting, what is German for ceasefire then? Apr 13, 2023 at 1:24
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User66974 is on the right road, but veered a little:

MW> a respite especially from a disagreeable or painful state or action.

A truce is a stoppage, pause, or rest in military hostility. The words "without truce" meaning "without respite" per the definition isn't emphasizing the immediate beginning of the task (it's not "without delay"), but rather characterizes it as "without stoppage, pause, or rest". That is, "without truce" is a synonym for "incessantly". The original passage therefore WITH SYNONYM IN CAPS:

The Tribunal finds from all the evidence that the defendant accepted the Führer Order without reservation and that he executed it INCESSANTLY.

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