There is one particularly interesting and dividing figure in the contemporary history of Hungary, who has been given a lot of media attention in the past three decades, with even a film being produced about his ‘adventures’. Read on to meet Attila Ambrus, the Whiskey Robber (in Hungarian: a Viszkis).

We’ve written recently about the Hungarian highwaymen, the famous Betyárs, who were respected by civilians and hated by the men of law. In that article, Attila Ambrus was already mentioned with his history briefly discussed, and he was even depicted as a modern-day betyár. A Hungarian film, directed by Nimród Antal was released recently, titled A Viszkis in Hungarian or The Whiskey Robber in English. Ever wondered who this guy is that Hungarians are so fascinated by? Now is your chance to find out.

Early life, ‘The Panther from Csík’

Attila Ambrus was born in 1967 in Transylvania, more precisely in a town right outside Csíkszereda, often referred to as Csík (in Romanian: Miercurea Ciuc).

In his teens and younger life he already had some clashes with the law, as he committed several petty thefts,

but nothing serious, and was not sentenced for those crimes. However, he was also a professional ice hockey player, playing for the local team.

His emigration is another interesting story, as in the communist era it was difficult to cross the Romanian border, especially to Hungary. Ambrus was one of the many braves who attempted and one of the few who succeeded at illegally crossing the border. He sneakily avoided the authorities’ attention by riding underneath a freight train. Talk about a daredevil…

He was drifting from one petty job to the other, all the while playing for different hockey teams in Hungary. His teammates at his new hockey team nicknamed him ‘The Panther from Csík’.

Ambrus during a recent hockey match as goalkeeper

The Whiskey Robber

Attila committed the ‘gentleman robberies’ during the 1990s at altogether 27 banks, post offices and travel agencies around Budapest. The very first robbery was committed in 1993, while the last one in 1999. During these six years, the Whiskey Robber managed to scrape together around 100 million Forints, which equals to about 318 thousand Euros.

Where does the nickname come from you might ask? Well,

it was his custom among many others to drink a bit of whiskey at a pub nearby before going in and robbing a given bank or post office.

Other robbery-rituals included giving flowers to female employees where he went robbing or sending a bottle of wine to the police.

After his crimes became famous in Hungary (and even in the surrounding countries where Hungarian-speaking communities are found), he was perceived as a folk hero, a sort of modern-day György Dózsa of the capitalist Communism. He was respected for the fact that, although he carried a gun on himself, he never harmed anyone (however there is one claim that during one of his last robberies he became aggressive and hit a woman).

Ambrus had three accomplices, though not at the same time. All three men were caught either during one of the ‘whiskey-robberies’ or later on, during individual ‘heists’. The first one was his cousin, who quit early because his heart could not take the stress involved, another one was one of his teammates, who had a major debt and after this was paid off, he also quit.

His last accomplice was a teammate again, who was caught during a robbery and eventually gave the Whiskey Robber up.

Capture and prison years

He was eventually caught on the 15th of January, 1999, and imprisoned for 12 years, after his accomplice was captured and gave him up. However, he did not go down easy, as, on July 10, 1999, he managed to escape from a prison from where nobody has ever escaped before, with the help of a rope made from sheets, electric cords and shoelaces. Despite him carefully avoiding the police for six years, this time he clumsily left some evidence at one of the crime scenes which led the police to his hide-out, thus he was captured after just three months.

Later, in 2002, Ambrus was sentenced to 17 years in prison, yet he was released on January 31, 2012, because of good behaviour.

Then he became a potter in Csíkszereda, and many who have met him claim that he became a humble man who shows signs of honest repentance.

Ambrus during work

In the meantime, during his jail-time, he passed his final exams from behind the bars and even managed to graduate from the University of Dunaújváros in 2009. He majored in communication. Apart from these two major accomplishments, Ambrus took up pottery (which is still a part of his life, he earns a living from it), learnt English and had aspirations to become a war correspondent after his release.

Media fascination with the Whiskey Robber

Several books and biographies were written about Attila Ambrus (he wrote an autobiography too), but there is one that stands out from the rest, that is the Ballad of the Whiskey Robber written by Julian Rubinstein, published in 2004. Why it is so special, one might ask. You’ll have to ask world-famous actor Johnny Depp, who considered the possibility of a silver screen adaptation of the book.

Behind the scenes photo from the set of Nimród Antal’s film The Whiskey Robber, Bence Szalay as Attila Ambrus /

Several scenes of Rubinstein’s book were adapted to theatre in Hungarian or German productions. Let’s not forget about the six songs written about him either.

Nimród Antal’s film The Whiskey Robber came out a couple of weeks ago, you can check it out in Hungarian with English subtitles at the Művész and the Toldi art cinemas in Budapest.

featured image: an illustration from the film The Whiskey Robber,

Source: Daily News Hungary

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.