In January 2020, Senior Historian at Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research Dr. David Silberklang ended his position as Editor-in-Chief of Yad Vashem Studies, Yad Vashem's flagship academic journal. Dr. Silberklang is currently co-authoring and editing The Comprehensive History of the Holocaust – Poland, part of the Comprehensive History of the Holocaust book series that Yad Vashem is publishing in English and Hebrew.
In a special interview for Yad Vashem Jerusalem, Dr. Silberklang reflected upon more than two decades in the position, and how the journal has become the leading source for research papers on Holocaust-related topics:
What were you working on before you became Editor-in-Chief of Yad Vashem Studies, and what were your goals for the journal going forward?
When I became Editor-in-Chief of Yad Vashem Studies in June 1996, I was a doctoral student at the Hebrew University and the Historian of Yad Vashem’s Museum Development Project. I left the latter position a year later, having completed writing the historical conceptual outline for Yad Vashem’s new Holocaust History Museum [which opened in 2005].
I succeeded Dr. Aharon Weiss as the Editor-in-Chief of the Yad Vashem Studies after working for ten years as Assistant Editor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies under the editorship of [Yad Vashem Academic Advisor] Prof. Yehuda Bauer.
From the outset, I established certain goals for the journal, such as enhancing its international profile and academic reputation, towards which I instituted a stricter and more international peer review process in which four or five readers per article is common. My academic correspondents around the world grew to many hundreds, and many of them submitted articles and peer reviewed submissions for us. Over the past 23 years, well over 1,000 articles crossed my desk, submitted in a dozen languages by authors in some thirty countries on six continents. Less than 25 percent of research articles were accepted for publication, reflecting our high standards.
One thing is clear: This job had me at the cutting edge of research on the Holocaust during some of the major advances in this field. I was able to play an important role in disseminating high-caliber scholarly knowledge and analytical insight on the Holocaust in 35 volumes in English and in Hebrew that included 390 articles (213 research; 146 review; and 31 analyzing the work of recently deceased scholars) on numerous subjects – a significant body of work from which the staff and I can derive great satisfaction.
How has Yad Vashem Studies expanded its scope over the years?
During my tenure, we expanded the temporal and geographic scopes of Yad Vashem Studies and have attracted articles from an array of disciplines – history, anthropology, archaeology, art history, commemoration, literature, musicology, philosophy and theology, psychology, sociology, and more. I introduced a section with in-depth review articles of recent important books on the Holocaust – 146 articles by more than 110 reviewers, on 176 books published in numerous languages to date. I also added an Editor’s Introduction to each issue, instituted a style guide, and updated and modernized the cover design, and in 2007 went to a semi-annual format. We also publish much more visual material – many dozens of photographs, maps, tables, etc., which has enriched our academic discussion.
What are some of the challenges and rewards you found in this position?
The challenges and rewards have been many. Some of the rewards are clear: an outstanding staff and a wonderful Editorial Board, whose awe-inspiring collective knowledge, wisdom and insight kept me on my toes; the opportunity to learn constantly (even from the articles that were rejected); the many contacts that I developed over the years with scholars and others around the world; and the numerous thoughtful conversations that I had with scholars, both experienced veterans and eager novice researchers.
Helping authors edit and improve their articles has been both challenging and often greatly rewarding. Combining and distilling the (anonymous) peer reviewers’ assessments into a clear and helpful summary of comments for the author is an important part of the work. All the articles we published clearly benefited from this process. This connects also to the fact that Yad Vashem Studies publishes in two languages (every article appears in both English and Hebrew). In the course of translating and editing, we inevitably find discrepancies, sometimes substantive, which often send us back to the author for clarification. In many instances, we uncovered errors in the original that the authors had not noticed and for which they were always grateful. Our labor-intensive work has resulted in more accurate and precise articles.
How has Holocaust research developed since you took up the post?
The 1990s saw the opening of archives in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, and the subsequent beginning of published research using this documentation. As a result, we were able to publish numerous path-breaking articles, such as heretofore unknown diaries from the Holocaust; Polish attitudes toward Jews during the Holocaust; the roundups and deportations of Jews from Western Europe; and aspects of the Holocaust that were previously barely known – regarding the USSR, Salonika, Finland, Arrow Cross leader Ferenc Szálasi and Romanian Orthodox Patriarch and political leader Miron Cristea, Portugal’s role in laundering Nazi gold theft, how WWII museums in former communist countries relate to the Holocaust, and more. Many of the new topics and new findings that were brought to light in these articles continue to reverberate and generate discussion, such as those on how local populations related to the Jews during and after the Holocaust. We have even published two special volumes of Yad Vashem Studies in Russian in order to make some important research available to Russian readers.
Where do you think Holocaust research is headed in the third decade of the twenty-first century?
It is difficult to predict where Holocaust research will head in the coming years. Many subjects await comprehensive research. For example, most localities have yet to be researched, many regional studies have yet to be completed, and forced labor, ubiquitous to Jewish experience during the Holocaust, is still a relatively under-researched subject. I can list many more topics that have not yet been researched thoroughly, and many fundamental questions for which we do not yet have satisfactory answers. Of one thing I am confident: There is still much to research and much that we do not yet understand. Scholars will need many years to go through hundreds of millions of pages of relevant documentation, and many more years for us to digest what this documentation tells us. I am confident that my successor, Dr. Sharon Kangisser-Cohen [Director of the Diana and Eli Zborowski Center for Research into the Aftermath of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research] will embrace this challenge and help implement even higher standards and more wide-ranging explorations in the field of Holocaust research.
This article originally appeared in the "Yad Vashem Jerusalem Magazine," volume 91.