When Johann Georg Grasel was on the rampage in Austria-Hungary
How could pre-war Czechoslovakia with such a different robber mythology have endured together? A nation fed up with the Psohlavci knew that Jan Sladký Kozina, a rebel and a character without the fear of hany, did not even rob and yet was innocently „hutracenej“. Babinsky, on the other hand, improved after his arrest and turned into a good-natured gardener in a women’s convent. Even the Moravian-Silesian Ondráš did not physically harm his victims. As a dreamer, positive hero and almost communist, he only took from the rich and gave to the poor. On the other hand, the Carpatho-Ukrainian Dovbush was an extraordinary hard man who controlled his subordinate peasants with an iron hand. He got his power and strength from God. Which didn’t stop him from robbing the church.
Slovakian Juraj Janosik was actually an innocent forced to fight by circumstance. A ready-made friend in the rain, even a protector of the members of his robbery party. As a potential jackpot, he left the stolen gold to the good guys in the caves. Where any poor man can find it. Yet he turned out badly, and how else but by betrayal. Could he have known that the old woman would put peas under his feet? The complexity of national superstitions, myths and conditions is only confirmed by Nikola Shuhai the robber from the Carpathian Rus. This is not a potential sadist Dovbush. Above all, he does not deny the anarchist-Prague-Brno-Biolowitz self of his literary adoptive father, Ivan Olbracht.
Like father, like son
Austria-Hungary also had a complicated national robberyology. For example, Johann Georg Grasel (1790-1818), the son of a well-to-do man from Nové Syrovice near Moravské Budějovice and a terror of the surrounding area, was received in Austro-German circles, albeit after his death, with a certain pseudo-romantic sympathy. In Czech and Moravian circles, he was left with the pejorative term for all sorts of scoundrels: grázl. Nowadays, several hiking trails are named after him. Let’s take a closer look at him…
The criminal’s dad did the right thing and went on to become a retired court servant, but he didn’t stay on the good path. He ended up in a racial prison, stealing, making strange friends and acquaintances. At a time when his son was not yet standing on his own robber feet, the cage fell. Dad stayed in Brno’s Špilberk for a long time. Johann’s mother also had a rap sheet.
My little boy first entered the courtroom at the age of nine. At that time, the thefts were rather minor, but the court handed down the punishment „hard“. But he didn’t reform the perpetrator. The extent of his thieving activities grew, although some of the robberies earned him only a negligible profit. People carried relatively little cash. In addition, it is documented, for example, that Grasel beat one of his victims, Maria Schindler, with an iron bar without her telling him where she hid her money at home.
So the robbers mainly took goods. But they couldn’t sell them on the market. And the traffickers paid willingly, but ridiculously little. We have records that for a large robbery of cloth worth over five thousand gold pieces, the robbers received only three hundred. It should be noted, however, that the traffickers did not want a „free discount“. Stolen contraband was a hot commodity. They could quickly be put behind bars for possessing it and then selling it.
Grasel and his band of robbers were able to move very quickly for the time. Lower Austria, southern Bohemia and southern Moravia – Gmund, Slavonice, Dačice, Znojmo – they felt the impact of those robberies everywhere. The imperial police, of course, acted. They posted a proclamation throughout the area offering 500 gold pieces for substantial help in Grasel’s capture. The offer for a „cooperating witness“ sounded even better. That is, an accomplice who would help the authorities catch their commander. The reward was 250 gold pieces, but it included impunity.
It didn’t help. In 1815, the reward was increased to four thousand gold pieces. For comparison: the lord of the castle in Namesti nad Oslavou then paid one of his servants 20 guilders a month for making music, a brass drum cost 50 guilders, and the luxurious Cibulka mansion in Prague Košíří with twenty hectares of fields and gardens was sold for 112 thousand guilders. So a lot of money… And it worked!
A certain David Meyer, under the direction of the Brno police director von Okacz, arranged the escape of Grasel’s mistress Therese Hamberger from prison. He then lured Johann to an inn in Martensdorf on behalf of the lady. Law enforcement officers were waiting for him as guests. A brawl ensued, in which Grasel fought valiantly and fiercely against the odds. The public also joined in on the right side of the fight – a few random guests helped the police.
Eventually, Grasel’s legs were tripped, several men jumped on him, and then it was all downhill from there. He was transported to Vienna in a cage made of iron bars, and on 28 January 1818, the court there handed down the death sentence. Three days later the criminal and his three robber friends were hanged. 60,000 Viennese and foreigners came to see the morbid spectacle! The robber is said to have commented with his last words: „Jesus, that’s people.“