Ich heiße Josef Kolig. My German is not so good, but I learn what I can from der pater. I write you this letter with much angst. I am the son of Rudolf and Maria Kolig, your neise and nefew. There are many things I would like to discuss, but sadly time and safety will not allow. America is not the land of the stories I would hear from grandvater. It is a place of great wealth. The buildings stretch far and high, meat and provisions are plentiful, there is so much noise, life and color. But this is not for us. We, österreicher, and others from Europe, do not live in this world. We are treated as dog. The people spit at us, call us foul names, the work is beyond what keeps a man strong and the money given us is never enough. We came for life, opportunity, work, better future for family, but we are not welcome here. Now, with world at war, I have been coerced to fight. I am a soldier in the battalion of those who war against my countrymen. I cannot bear it. A people always at odds, bickering for money and power, digging their heels into each other’s backs and even more the foreigner. And they are known as united states. No good man can stand united with them, such a man am I.
I have heard whispers. Commander has been heard speaking of our travel to Adriatic Sea. There their ships will make way to block the ships of Austria-Hungary. They know of plans to leave from there to fight in Mediterranean. I can't be a part of this death, this rot in the soul and strength of america. I do not know if you can help or if you know one who can. But this letter must find its way to Horthy. When we arrive, I will make my escape and fall on the mercy of my people. I pray that one day I may find you and greet you as family. I would rather hear my calls for death as prisoner of war among my brothers, than fear death at the hands of the policeman or mob back in america. May our paths cross soon.
Each word was read aloud with vitriol, revealing the damning evidence before the judge. Four months later, Josef sat at a table, head down, crowd buzzing behind him. Hearing his own words made his heart rattle within his chest. Hopes that would never be lived out.
"As you can see, your Honor, Mr. Kolig here spoke heinously against the government, freedoms, and patriotic citizens of these United States. He dragged our blessed Navy through the mud, trampled the names of our dear countrymen, and had every intention of revealing pertinent information to an enemy combatant, abandoning his post, and joining said enemy. In his own words, written by him, and read for you today, Mr. Kolig must be held guilty under the Espionage Act. He is a threat to the ideals we hold most dear and is a danger to this country and its' people. Death can be the only answer for his crimes."
Edward Wertz, District Attorney of the United States, walked confidently to the bench of Judge Westenhaver, and uttered three final words. "He must die." Having failed to bring death to another enemy of the state just a few months before, Wertz was determined to see this through.
Josef knew what was to come. He had seen cruelty firsthand. The streets of his New York borough were wrought with hatred for any immigrant. The oceans and foreign lands of the world had now been stained with blood spilled by American military might. And now, his would be spilled next. He closed his eyes, drowning out the hum of the courtroom surrounding him, and thought of his family. His parents had told him stories of the America of legend. A land rife with opportunity, promise, sizeable wages, democracy. Their parents had brought them and were so eager for their son to find his place. But none could imagine what awaited them. For want of a better life, a life denied to him, Josef had to die.
His thoughts were interrupted as the sound of the judge's gavel permeated his last peaceful thoughts. "Death by hanging." At those words, the bailiffs, on either side of him, lifted Josef from his seat and led him out the door. This was it. Each step down the long hallway brought him closer to the courtyard and the end waiting for him, the gallows. Not wanting to see any more of what he knew to be coming, Josef lowered his head to the ground and continued walking. They came to a door and found themselves in a courtyard. The noise of the crowd who had amassed outside of the courthouse filled his ears as the bailiffs now dragged him to the base of the platform. He counted the steps "One......two....three..." One each for his father and mother, both of whom were found guilty and hanged, based simply off what was revealed in his letter. And now the final step for himself. Josef walked his last few steps to the edge of the platform, where the noose was lowered and fitted tightly around his neck. Through the screams and jeers of the crowd, he could hear the judge reciting his crimes, reminding him of where and why he stood condemned. His head remained down; eyes closed as the countdown began. But no. He would not die defeated. He would not face death in fear but look out into the crowd. He would stand proud of what he was, an immigrant, even as he embraced death. As he lifted his head, eyes opening, the silhouette of the Statue of Liberty in the distance filled his vision. The final ironic monument to his life in America.