The beginning of the 19th century was characterized by hardship and poverty, in the wake of numerous wars. Deserters and beggars became vagabonds and committed robberies in order to survive. It was a heyday of thievery. One thief in particular acquired fame beyond all borders: Jan Jiří Grasel (Johann Georg Grasel).
He was born in Nové Syrovice (Neuserowitz) in 1790. His parents lived as knackers on the fringes of village society. Their job entailed the removal and processing of the carcasses of dead animals, but they also earned income through stealing and robbery. At the age of six, Grasel committed his first robbery, instigated by his father. At the age of 24, his crimes reached their zenith. He organized his thieving forays again and again with the help of his cronies, supported by a network of innkeepers and court ushers who provided him with information and hiding places.
But in 1815 the streak of robberies came to a stop; Grasel was caught in the trap of his pursuers. At the beginning of 1818, a military tribunal handed the verdict of death by hanging to Jan Jiří Grasel as well as to two of his accomplices. His last words were ‘Jessas, so vül Leit!’ (‘Jesus, so many people!’); he seemed surprised about the many people who came to see his execution.
After his death, there was a fear that he might be romanticized as a hero in poems, songs, and literature, yet this didn’t materialize.