Biopic on Polish Resistance Fighter Witold Pilecki Planned (Exclusive)

Credit: Isa Foltin, Getty / Wikicommons
Feo Aladag, Witold Pilecki

Austrian director Feo Aladag ('When We Leave') will write and direct the drama based on the life of the Polish soldier and spy who escaped from Auschwitz and helped lead the resistance to the Nazis.

Witold Pilecki's story was larger-than-life.

A soldier with the Polish Army in World War II, Pilecki volunteered for a Polish resistance operation that involved infiltrating (and later escaping from) the Auschwitz concentration camp. In 1941 he authored the first comprehensive intelligence report on Auschwitz and the Holocaust, only to see it ignored by the Allied powers. Pilecki was a co-founder of Nazi resistance group the Secret Polish Army and a fighter in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.

After the war, he continued to battle authoritarianism, supporting the London-based Polish government-in-exile against Warsaw's Soviet-backed communist regime. Arrested by the secret police, he was executed, after a show trial, in 1948.

Dozens of books have been written on Pilecki. He has been praised by Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich as “one of the greatest wartime heroes” and by British historian Norman Davies as an “Allied hero”who deserves to be “remembered and celebrated.” But outside of Poland, Pilecki's story has been largely forgotten. Two local biopics — the 2006 TV movie The Death of Captain Pilecki and the docu-feature Pilecki in 2015 — received scant international attention.

Austrian filmmaker Feo Aladag (When We Leave) is hoping to change that with a new feature on Pilecki's life, which she will write and direct. Tentatively titled The Inconvenient Truth, the film will focus on Pilecki's experience in Auschwitz and afterward, up to his death, but will also link to the present day. 

“Pilecki's story is one that has a universal relevance, particularly in our current political climate,” Aladag told The Hollywood Reporter, “that there are certain crimes where one cannot afford to look away, whatever the personal cost. And that it is not enough just to look, that one has to act as well.”

Political activism is a theme that runs through Aladag's work. Her first feature as a director, 2010's When We Leave, which won the top prize in Tribeca and was Germany's International Oscar contender, looked at the struggles of a young Muslim woman (played by Sibel Kekilli), struggling to lead an independent life against the resistance of her traditional, fundamentalist family. 2014's Inbetween Worlds focused on a German solider in Afghanistan and his complicated relationship with a young Afghani translator.

“My projects, whether set in the past or the present, always seem to be entangled in what's going on in the world right now,” she said. “I can't escape it.”

Aladag is setting up The Inconvenient Truth as a European co-production with Polish partners and plans to being shooting later this year for delivery in 2021. The film has yet to be cast.