The key evidence in the trial is the testimony of Ilana Mather d leadership role in the church deaths, while the other defendants are sentenced to four years and three months each. Michael (Ralph Fiennes), meanwhile, marries, has a daughter, and divorces. Retrieving his books from the time of his and Hanna’s affair, he begins reading them into a tape recorder, which he then sends to Hanna. Eventually, she begins borrowing books from the prison library and teaches herself to read and write by following along with Michael’s tapes. She starts writing back to Michael, first in brief, childlike notes, and as time goes by, her letters reflect her gradually improving literacy.
In 1988, a prison official (Linda Bassett) telephones him to seek his help with Hanna’s transition into society after her upcoming early release for good behavior. Having no family or other relations, he finds a place for her to live and even a job, and finally visits Hanna towards her release. In their meeting, Michael remains somewhat distant, inquiring about what she has learnt from her past, to which she replies just “It doesn’t matter what I feel and it doesn’t matter what I think. The dead are still dead”.
Michael arrives at the prison on the date of Hanna’s release with flowers, only to realize that Hanna hanged herself. She has left a tea tin with cash inside and a note asking him to deposit the money in a bank account to Ilana, whose memoir relating her dreadful experiences in the concentration camp, Hanna has read.
Michael travels to New York City where he meets Ilana (now Lena Olin) and confesses his relationship with Hanna. He tells her about the suicide note and Hanna’s illiteracy. Ilana tells Michael there is nothing to be learned from the camps and refuses the money, whereupon Michael suggests that it be donated to any Jewish welfare organization which he sees fit. Ilana keeps the tea tin, similar to the one stolen from her in Auschwitz.
The movie ends with Michael driving his daughter Julia to H(Alexandra Maria Lara), author of a memoir relating how she and her mother (Lena Olin), who also testifies, survived. She describes how Hanna had women from the camp read to her in the evenings. Hanna, unlike her co-defendants, admits that Auschwitz was an extermination camp and that the 10 women she chose during each month’s Selektion were gassed. She denied however, authorship of a report on the church fire event, which they blamed on her. Requested to provide a handwriting sample, she admits the charge, instead of complying with the handwriting test.
Michael then realizes Hanna’s secret: she is illiterate, a fact she has been concealing all her life. The other guards who blamed the written report on her are lying to clear themselves. Michael informs the law professor of the favorable fact, but since the defendant herself has chosen to not disclose it, the professor is not sure what to do about it. Michael, though permitted to visit Hanna, leaves the prison, without seeing her.
Hanna receives a life sentence for her admitteanna’s grave, and telling her their story.