Anatolii Shapiro was born as Anshel Shapiro in 1913 in Konstantinograd (now Krasnograd) near Kharkov, Ukraine. He later moved to Zaporozhie (eastern Ukraine) where, in 1934, he graduated from the Engineering and Pedagogical Institute and was drafted into the Red Army. In 1935 he was demobilized with the rank of second lieutenant. From 1937 to 1939 he taught engineering at the tekhnikum (technical college) affiliated with the "Dneprospetsstal'" plant. In 1939 he became a member of the Zaporozhie city council.
As an important engineer and a member of the city administration, Shapiro was exempted from military service. However, after the German attack against the Soviet Union, in October 1941 he volunteered for combat. Shapiro began his active service as the commander of a liaison platoon of a marine infantry brigade. Next, he became the commander of a company and, from the summer of 1943, the commander of a separate marine infantry battalion. He fought in the Northern Caucasus, in the area of Taganrog (southern Russia). In 1943, he took part in the operation in the Kursk Salient (where he was seriously wounded). At the end of that year, he was transferred, in the same position, to another division, with which he took part in the forcing of the Dnieper River.
In January 1945, the separate battalion commanded by Major Shapiro took part in the liberation of the Polish town of Oświęcim and the nearby death camp Auschwitz. After the war Shapiro recalled that half of his battalion fell in the battles to capture the town and clear the way to the camp. The Nazis unexpectedly rendered fierce resistance to the Soviet offensive directed toward the camp. As Shapiro noted in his postwar memoirs, the Germans wanted to eliminate all traces of the crime they committed there, one that was unprecedented in the history of humankind. He continued: "But they did not succeed in eliminating all traces of their crimes because the actions of our troops were rapid and well organized." On January 27, 1945 the Red Army removed the mines from the approach to Auschwitz and Shapiro was among the first to enter the notorious death camp. He was the one who opened the gate of the camp. What he saw in Auschwitz affected him for the rest of his long life.
In May 1945, Shapiro took part in the liberation of Prague, Czechoslovakia.
Shapiro was demobilized in 1947 and, after that, he worked as a civil engineer. In 1992, he left the USSR for the USA, where he lived in New York City. In America he wrote (in Russian) and published his books of memoirs I Remember This Day and The Sinister Marathon, in which, inter alia, he described the fighting for the town of Oświęcim and the liberation of Auschwitz. In New York City Shapiro was a prominent member of the Jewish community. He was interviewed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in January 2005.
Shapiro died in that year and was buried at the Beth Moses cemetery on Long Island. An exhibit in his memory was set up at the Brooklyn club of Holocaust survivors.