‘Pilecki’s Report’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: How Did Witold Pilecki Die?


Pilecki’s Report, or Raport Pileckiego in native Polish, is a 2023 biography war drama film that has recently been released to global audiences by Netflix. Revisiting the tumultuous times in Poland during and shortly after World War II, the film presents the story of a heroic man who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp and then wrote detailed reports about the experience. While the inspiring story of Witold Pilecki is nothing short of exceptional, Pilecki’s Report is not the most coherent or exciting retelling of it and can only be enjoyed by those greatly interested in history.

Spoiler Alert

What is the film about?

Pilecki’s Report begins with a news clipping from May 8, 1945, when the unconditional surrender agreement was signed by Nazi Germany, ending its horrific rule over various parts of Europe and succumbing to Allied powers. In Poland, which is the country in focus in the film, the guerilla units and other factions of independence fighters gave up their arms as well, since the common enemy had been defeated, and it was the Soviet government that took over. As part of the Allied forces’ fight against the Nazis, the USSR had established a stronghold in the country, with Marxist-Leninist ideology being followed for a couple of years, even before the end of the war. The scene shifts to 1947, when the newly formed Soviet government in Poland grew determined to punish all unfriendly forces, including the Secret Polish Army, or SPA, which posed a threat to the authorities at the time. As part of the persecution of the SPA, the founders of the organization and its most important figures were naturally held responsible as well.

It is at this moment in the film that Witold Pilecki is introduced, as he is seen walking into a courtroom, about to face a trial. Over the next few hours of Pilecki’s Report, we are given a detailed account of who Witold Pilecki was and what exactly he had done during WWII. As the ruling Soviet regime is seen arresting the man and holding a long-drawn and terribly violent interrogation against him, the question of why Pilecki is being considered an enemy of the state also becomes a pertinent one. Along with these historical and political complications, the film also throws light on the man’s personal life and the sacrifices he made in this respect for his beloved nation, Poland.

Who was Witold Pilecki?

Although born and brought up in different parts of Russia and Lithuania, Witold Pilecki always remained loyal to his family’s roots in Poland. Having trained in the scout program from a young age, Pilecki was always destined to fight in wars, especially given the condition of world politics in the early 1900s. When the Soviet Union started invading other countries following the historic Russian Revolution, he fought in a number of paramilitary forces against the Soviets in countries like Lithuania and Belarus. Thus, when the Soviet army came marching to Poland, he directly took part in the armed measures against them as part of the Polish army that fought back. 

Pilecki’s family had been originally ousted from their homelands in Poland by the Russian Empire in the 1860s, as Poland was already a part of the Russian czar at the time, for having participated in a revolution against the empire. Seeking to overthrow Russian rule in Poland seemed to have been an embedded characteristic in his family, starting with this very revolution, which was aimed at bringing independence to the region. Thus, when Witold Pilecki was a grown man in the 1930s, he actively chose to fight for Poland against the two biggest and most atrocious threats that he believed to exist in Europe—the Nazis and the Soviet regime. When the German army came marching in 1939, he fought in various divisions and posts in the army, in a number of Polish cities, to stop the invasion. But all efforts obviously failed, and the extremely powerful Nazi force took over, starting the notorious German occupation that would tear the country and its citizens apart over the following years. 

Eight years before any of these sufferings took over, Pilecki met and fell in love with a woman named Maria Ostrowska in the village of Sukurcze in the Vilnius region, in modern-day Lithuania. Their intense romance was genuine in every way, and although Maria knew of the revolutionary and extremely nationalist values that her lover had, she could not imagine life without him. Thus, Witold and Maria got married soon after, and they had two children as well: an older son and then a daughter. However, how long the family stayed together in each other’s company is debatable since the political scenarios in Europe had already started to change in the later part of the 1930s, and Pilecki had to go away to fight various wars and conflicts. He was already a cavalry officer by this time, but his days as a resistance leader and intelligence agent were yet to come. 

After the German occupation began, Pilecki felt the need for some sort of intelligence movement in order to continue the fight against the Nazis, as direct conflict was now no longer possible. He was confident that if a secret organization could be established with the help of the numerous other individuals who had the same sentiment, then information about the occupation could be sent over to the Allies in the West. Thus, he co-founded one such group and aptly named it the Secret Polish Army, and the organization’s main intention was to gather as much intel as possible and send it to foreign aides. Interestingly, this information would not just be about the Nazis and the German occupation but also about the Soviet regime, who were intruders in Poland as well. After all, the Soviet influence was still very much present, and Pilecki and his Polish nationalist friends considered them as the enemy.

Why did Pilecki volunteer to be taken to Auschwitz?

Under the control of Nazi Germany, Poland became the center of one of the most horrific crimes against humanity ever committed in the history of mankind, as the concentration camp was set up in Auschwitz. Along with massive Jewish populations from various parts of Germany and Europe being brought to the camps, Polish citizens and Jewish people in the country were also being targeted on a regular basis. During this time, there was almost no information available to those outside the camps about how the place was being run. Although the Nazis were keeping records for their own benefit, they were naturally not sharing the information with anyone else, and so the extreme atrocities being committed were not being reported anywhere. While the world knew that Jews and people from other minority communities were being rounded up and sent to the camps, what exactly was being done to them remained a mystery.

It was at this time that Witold Pilecki came up with the idea of writing a report about the ongoing concentration camp in Auschwitz, and he asked for support from his associates in the Secret Polish Army regarding the matter. This was surely a novel idea that would help prepare the resistance better against the Nazis, but then it also involved the very dangerous notion of intruding into the camps somehow. Pilecki agreed to volunteer for the role, as he always held the need to help Poland far above his own personal well-being. German soldiers conducting searches and roundups in the neighborhoods in various Polish cities was a regular occurrence, and some of Pilecki’s friends had already been taken away by this time. When the Germans came knocking at his door, he initially remained hidden inside his room while his wife and maid tried to send the soldiers away. This had perhaps been a regular matter for him and his family, as they survived the German occupation this long. Like every other family in these troublesome situations, the Pileckis would pretend that no man was present in the house and send the soldiers away.

However, on this particular occasion, Witold Pilecki decided against hiding anymore, and he eventually opened up the room to his door and showed himself to the Nazis. This led to his detention, much to the grief and shock of his wife Maria, and he was taken to Auschwitz and made a prisoner at the concentration camp.

Was Pilecki able to report about the atrocities in Auschwitz?

Pilecki’s Report picks up the pace following the protagonist’s detention in Auschwitz, as the film recreates the camp with great detail that is quite painful to watch. As Pilecki and his friends are brought into the place, they are immediately asked about their professions, and those with any creative skills are killed right away. This is because the Nazis designed the concentration camps as enforced labor camps, meaning that they were in search of manual labor. Thus, people with skills in medicine and craftsmanship were kept alive and given various jobs at the place. Pilecki is seen getting away at this very first stage, which he later termed “selektion,” by mentioning himself as a tanner, although he was obviously not related to the profession in any way. Since the various prisoners at the camp are kept there for various different reasons, Pilecki is mentioned as a political prisoner and is subjected to extreme torture and abuse.

Witold Pilecki was extremely religious to the Christian faith, according to the film at least, and he had sneaked in a few crucifixes along with him for mental and spiritual support. But the Nazi rule was all about crushing the human spirit in every way possible, and these items were quickly taken away from him while other prisoners were beaten up just to punish the protagonist. However, Pilecki still remains extremely focused on his personal mission to report on the functioning of the camps, and he is ultimately able to succeed. His detention had taken place in September of 1940, and over the next couple of years, Pilecki struggled through the extreme torture, abuse, and humiliation, all so that he could write reports on the Auschwitz concentration camp. Finally, when his work was mostly done, his associates convinced him that that was the right time to escape. In April of 1943, Pilecki and two other members of the resistance force he had gathered inside the prison escaped Auschwitz amidst heavy firing from the Nazis. Within a few days, his report was published, and Pilecki’s Report, also known as Witold’s Report, became the first written account about the concentration camps.

Why did the Soviets hide Pilecki’s story?

Although Witold Pilecki survives the Auschwitz concentration camp, which is an almost superhuman feat, and then also sees the fall of the German Third Reich, his sufferings do not end. Ultimately, the Soviet regime, which takes back control over Poland, arrests the man and extensively interrogates him about his reports and other intelligence he has gathered. This is because the Soviets wanted to maintain their rule over Poland and, under no circumstances, wanted to support an intelligence agent who essentially worked against them. Before the Soviets took over Poland, the rulers of the country who formed the government essentially fled and sought refuge in England. During all this time, the government still existed, and they were recognized as the Polish government-in-exile, meaning that they were still running the country from foreign lands. As nations like the United Kingdom were greatly wary of the power and dangerous tendencies of the USSR, they agreed to help the government-in-exile and make them a part of the Allied forces. As an extension of this government, the Home Army became the most dominant resistance force in mainland Poland, and Witold Pilecki was a dedicated supporter of the exiled authority.

The Soviet rulers in the country were obviously not pleased with this stance, and they also knew that Pilecki was determined to get rid of their regime as well. Therefore, they held him responsible for treason against Poland and for colluding with foreign powers against the ruling regime, which were all charges designed by the Soviet government. Pilecki’s proximity to the government-in-exile, and therefore the United Kingdom, was considered a great threat, and along with the persecution of the Home Army and the SPA, he too was arrested. During the interrogation process, as shown in Pilecki’s Report, the regime officers also involve the protagonist’s wife, Maria, and get her to hand over all the reports that he had written about Auschwitz. The erstwhile prime minister, Jozef Cyrankiewicz, who had also been held prisoner at Auschwitz together with Pilecki, denies his existence at all and states that he was not involved in any resistance. Cyrankiewicz was just a Soviet puppet by this time, and once all parts of the Pilecki Report were collected by the Soviets, a direct effort was made to totally wipe out Pilecki’s name from history.

What happened to Witold Pilecki?

In 1947, the situation had turned completely against Pilecki, and although he had the option to plead guilty and gain some favors from the government, he decided against it. This scene at the ending of Pilecki’s Report comes as one of the most moving moments in the film, when Maria begs her husband to try and make an effort to protect himself. Throughout his entire life, the man had dedicated everything to the struggle for Polish freedom and had gone through extreme odds to be hailed as a hero. But being a hero to the nation also meant being completely absent from the lives of his family members and having no personal life at all. Maria is understandably bitter at this situation, as she asks her husband to not be a hero once again, but Pilecki cannot entertain the request. His last wish for Maria is for her to explain to his children that his final sacrifice is the right thing to do. In the court trial, Witold Pilecki does not help the Soviets in any way, and he is sentenced to death by a firing squad.

Pilecki’s Report‘s ending shows this very heartbreaking act in 1948, when Witold Pilecki was executed. Even in his final moments, he remains unbothered by the Soviet regime and faces his shooter directly, with no fear or remorse whatsoever.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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