Caroline Stoessinger, a prominent pianist and artist-in-residence at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is the founder and director of The Mozart Academy of New York, which provides high quality classical music instruction at no cost to immigrant children who have limited access to such opportunities. She is working on a documentary film about Alice Herz-Sommer. Alice Herz-Sommer lives in London.
Considered one of the leading intellectual figures and moral forces in Eastern Europe today, Vaclav Havel was born into a well-to-do Prague family on October 5, 1936. Denied the right to attend the university college because of his "bourgeois" background, Havel instead studied at a technical college from 1955 to 1957, and then enlisted in the Czechoslovak Army. Havel left the army in 1959 and began a career in writing. He took a job as a resident writer for the Prague Theatre on the Balustrade in 1960 and wrote his first play, The Garden City, three years later. Wanting to learn more about the craft that he now considered a full-time career, Havel enrolled in the Academy of Dramatic Arts, graduating in 1967. Two years later Havel's passport was revoked because the government considered his writings to be subversive. As an essayist, Havel has written the books Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation with Karel Hvizdal; Living in the Truth; Open Letters: Selected Prose 1965-1990; and Temptation. From 1979 to 1982, while in prison for subversion, Havel wrote a number of letters to his wife, Olga Splichalova. In 1983 those correspondences formed Havel's book Letters to Olga. On December 29, 1989, Vaclav Havel was elected President of Czechoslovakia. He resigned in 1992, only to be elected the president of the newly formed Czech Republic in 1993. Havel has been the recipient of more than a dozen honorary degrees.
Born in Sighet, Romania, Eliezer "Elie" Wiesel was born on September 30, 1928, in Romania. In 1944 he and his family were deported, along with other Jews, to the Nazi death camps. His father died in Buchenwald and his mother and his younger sisters at Auschwitz. (Wiesel did not learn until after the war that his older sisters had also survived.) Upon liberation from the camps, Wiesel boarded a train for Western Europe with other orphans. The train arrived in France, where he chose to remain. He settled first in Normandy and later in Paris, where he completed his education at the Sorbonne (from 1948 to 1951). To support himself, he did whatever he could, including tutoring, directing a choir, and translating. Eventually he began working as a reporter for various French and Jewish publications. Emotionally unable at first to write about his experience of the Holocaust, in the mid-1950s the novelist Francois Mauriac urged him to speak out and tell the world of his experiences. The result was La Nuit (1958), later translated as Night (1960), the story of a teenage boy plagued with guilt for having survived the death camps and for questioning his religious faith. Before the book was published, Wiesel had moved to New York (in 1956), where he continued writing and eventually began teaching. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1963, following a long recuperation from a car accident. Since the publication of Night, Wiesel has become a major writer, literary critic, and journalist. As a writer steeped in the Hasidic tradition and concerned with the Holocaust he survived, he has written on the problem of persecution and the meaning of being a Jew. Dawn (1960) is an illuminating document about terrorists in Palestine. In The Accident (1961), Eliezer, a Holocaust survivor, can not seem to escape the past. Other notable works include The Gates of the Forest (1964) and Twilight (1988), which explore the themes of human suffering and a belief in God. Wiesel has received a number of awards and honors for his literary work, including the William and Janice Epstein Fiction Award in 1965, the Jewish Heritage Award in 1966, the Prix Medicis in 1969, and the Prix Livre-International in 1980. As a result of his work in combating human cruelty and in advocating justice, Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. He has also served as chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and spoke at the dedication of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., in 1993.