'I Still Have Some Strength in My Hands'

An 89-year-old Czech senior citizen explains how she fought off a mugger

A mugging is something everybody fears. It's not easy to defend yourself against a thief, especially if you're almost 90 years old -- but 89-year-old Marie B. from Planá nad Lužnicí did just that.

What exactly happened to you three weeks ago?

I was walking home from the shops, on a quiet street with no traffic. I had a knee operation in the past so I walk with a cane and I use a shopping trolley. It was about noon, and no one was around. I happened to be near the house where I live when suddenly someone jumped on my back. The person grabbed me under my neck with one hand, having started to spray something in my face with the other. I was startled, not knowing what was happening. You can never be prepared for a situation like that. The only thing I knew was that I held onto my bag tightly. The attacker knocked me to the ground. As I had a bag in one hand and the cane in the other, I couldn't stop myself falling or soften the blow. I fell on the leg that had been operated on and on my elbow and hit my head on the curb quite badly. At that moment I realized it wasn't a branch that had fallen on me, it was a robbery.

A nearly immobile person is quite vulnerable.

Yes, on top of that you are in a total state of shock. After I fell down, I realized the attacker wasn't a man but a woman of around 50. She said nothing. She just knelt on me, trying to take my bag. But I didn't let go because it had my wallet in it and there were 850 crowns in there! It's probably not a lot but for pensioners it's a fortune. As she tried to snatch the bag from my hand, I suddenly realized that I had a cane and I could defend myself while lying on the ground. So I started beating the thief with the cane. I can't say how successful I was, since I could not see her. I just blindly thrashed around with the cane and called for help. After about two minutes, the woman suddenly stopped and began to run. So I had defended my bag.

Where did you find the courage?

It is in my nature. As I was knocked to the ground, I immediately realized that I must defend myself. Maybe I have training from the past. My family went through some terrible things during [World War II]. My husband's brother died in Auschwitz. My husband was a forester and we lived in rugged and remote mountain areas. I got my training in courage there.

Did anyone help you?

There was no one in the street. I pulled my bruised leg from under my body and, using my bag, I slowly got up. Your instinct tells you that you must, you simply must. Because I don't have a mobile phone, I limped off to find a phone booth to call for help. Luckily, I met a gentleman and he immediately called the police. They came almost immediately; I gave them a description of the lady. They caught her quite soon afterward. When they showed her to me sitting in the car, only then did I realize what could have happened.

Did you sustain any injuries?

Luckily, she did not hit me. My doctor checked my knee and it's OK. I had a bump on my head and my back hurt. Considering that my heart is weak, it actually turned out quite well. But at night I often wake up now with nightmares, seeing the woman bending over me. I have some concerns now that someone could try to take revenge against me for speaking to you. No one knows the offender but everybody knows me, the victim. That is why I don't want to say my name or to be photographed.

Who was the attacker?

I've never seen her before. They told me she was unemployed, living like a homeless person in the streets, and she has been convicted before. She saw me, as I was walking out of the shop. It's a pretty sad reflection on the contemporary world. Her husband died and her son apparently doesn't care about her. She is perhaps glad to be jailed because at least she has a roof over her head and something to eat. At the time of the attack, they said she hadn't eaten for three days.

How do you feel out in the streets now?

Mugging has always been with us and it all depends on the person whether or not they will suffer trauma from it for the rest of his life. For an old and partially immobile person it is essential to always be alert. No one will have any mercy on you. People aren't so vigilant these days so it's good not to walk down the street at night, to stick with other people, and to keep turning around all the time and paying attention. There is no other advice. A person with two canes like my neighbor has no chance of defending himself. Fortunately, I still have some strength in my hands, and I still use my brains.

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