The legend of Janosik is passed down from generation to generation and there are no official records of this story anywhere. Janosik lived in Białka Tatrzańska, which was the seat of a band of robbers. The robbers, as strong and athletic men of Podhale (region in Poland, also called “Polish highlands”), were not afraid of anybody. Their main activity was taking from the rich and giving it to the poor.
Janosik’s parents called him “Janek”. It was only after he joined the group of robbers when he adopted the name “Janosik”.
According to the legend, Janosik came from a family of peasants and didn’t like working for a local lord, just like the rest of the peasantry. His mother died prematurely. Janosik’s constant refusal of work resulted in his father being severely beaten and eventually in his death.
The boy was left alone, with nobody by his side. He wanted to avenge the fate of his father and the poor peasants, who worked above their strength and still suffered from hunger. Janek decided to join the robbers and set off to the mountains to find their cave. To become their comrade he had to undergo a lot of hard tests.
When Janek managed to get to the robbers, they were just returning to the big cave. Not far away, there was the second cave inhabited by the nymphs. The third cave was in the Liptovske Tatras, and it was where Janek stayed with his beloved Maryna later on. When Janek caught up with the highwaymen, the guards who protected the cave blocked his way. When asked about his destination the boy answered that he wanted to join the robbers. However, they did not believe him and decided that the boy must first show what he was capable of.
His first challenge was to jump from one top of the mountain to the other. As the two tops were additionally separated by a river, the task was especially difficult. The second challenge was to sing and dance well, because that’s what a real highwayman should be able to do. Janek knew that despite the difficulties of tasks, they are feasible. The robbers went away and Janek got time to practise. When the boy got bored, he decided to walk towards the mountains, but he lost his way in the depths of the Bukowina forest. Fortunately, Janek saw the light and went in this direction. He saw a hut and went in.
In the room, he saw a woman who was a witch. When he asked her if he could stay for a night, the woman warned him that two other sisters who lived with her could kill him. Janek, however, did not have the strength to look for other accommodation and decided to spend the night there. He lay down on the bench and fell asleep. When the other two witches arrived, they decided not to kill Janek, because somehow they started to like him. Instead, they wanted to test how brave and courageous he was. They placed hot charcoal on his stomach. Janek survived the trial, even though the hot coals gouged a hole in his body. When the witches saw it, they decided to help the boy become a robber.
One woman collected the horseshoes to make him a shepherd’s axe. The second one hunted down an animal to make his a robber’s belt. The third man collected flax and plaited him a shirt. The axe was supposed to help him jump from one top of the mountain to the other. The belt gave him supernatural power, so that he could pull trees with roots, and the shirt made him bulletproof.
In the morning, Janek left the hut to meet the robbers. They reminded him of the conditions that he had to meet to join them. The boy bounced back on the axe and jumped between the mountains. Despite Janek’s effort, Harnaś, the group leader still wouldn’t allow him to join them and decided that Janek must fight with one of the robbers. Of course, thanks to the shirt, he defeated everyone. Harnaś couldn’t believe it so he himself called Janek for a fight. It was difficult to defeat Harnas but using the gifts from the witches, Janek managed to beat him. As a sign of respect, Harnaś took off his high, rogue hat, put it on Janek’s head and called him Janosik. From that time, everyone respected Janosik, and together with Harnaś, they ruled the robbers’ group.
Janosik took from wealthy men and helped the poor not to die of hunger. He always slipped away from the army. In order to get him, the officials decided to set a trap for him. His girlfriend Maryna was told that Janosik cheated on her with another girl on the Slovak side. It was a tricky lie. Janosik never betrayed Maryna. But Maryna, like every woman with a broken heart, believed those lies and decided to help the army. When Janosik entered the room, Maryna unbuttoned his belt, took off his shirt and threw it into the chasm together with the axe. After a while, a guard ran to capture Janosik. Only then did Maryna realize that it was a trap but it was too late. The court issued a verdict to hang Janosik on the hook by his rib.
Maryna cried and apologized to Janosik. He however, as a real robber smoked a pipe and seemed not to care. He died in pain and torment. Maryna stayed in his arms and died with him.
As it always happens, there is a grain of truth in every legend. This story is probably based on Jerzy Janosik, a real person who was born in Tierchowa village. He was a robber, too. In the spring of 1713 he was captured, placed in a castle in Liptovsky Mikulas, trialed and sentenced to be hung on the hook by the left rib. He died on March 17 or 18, 1713.