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.
From Anatolii Shapiro's books of memoirs "The Sinister Marathon" and "I Remember This Day":
"On the morning of January 27 while were still fighting, we reached the main gates of the camp. The approaches to them were mined. While the latter were being cleared, we checked out other points of entry to the camp.
The first thing I saw once on the camp – was a group of people standing in the snow, who looked more like living skeletons, in striped jackets and rags on their feet instead of shoes. They were so weak that they could not turn his head. The camp was a veritable "city" of hundreds of long barracks and two storey blocks.
What I saw caused me a feeling of hatred for the monsters that created this "factory of death". I, who had seen human death many times at the front, was struck by the brutality of the Nazis that had turned the prisoners into living skeletons. They walked through the camp in striped uniforms. Two of them stopped and began to clap their hands, welcoming us, the soldiers and officers. How they were able to survive until the liberation, I do not know. And then, I saw those who could not speak, and turn their heads – living skeletons.
We stopped in front of the female barracks. On the floor, there were blood, feces, dead bodies - a terrible picture. It was impossible to stay there more than five minutes: the stench of decomposing bodies would not let breathe. The soldiers asked me: "Comrade Major, we are no longer able to look at what the fascists did to people ..." We received an order to inspect all the barracks, and we have carried out orders from their superiors. I did not see physically adequate people among the prisoners. The Germans left behind those enfeebled, emaciated, and led away those who could still walk.... On the way, almost all of them died. Later we learned that they led away ten thousand people ..."
"In the afternoon we entered the territory of the camp "Auschwitz" itself, passed through the main gate, over which hung a wire ligature made the slogan: "Work makes you free"….
It was impossible to enter the barracks without protective gauze mask. Uncleared corpses lay on the two storey bunks. The reaction of the survived prisoners on our appearance was the same as in the pencil factory. From time to time, half-dead skeletons got out from under the bunks and swore that they were not Jews. No one could believe that it was the liberation. After the barracks, we examined the huge warehouses filled with human ashes, still not packaged in sacks. There was so much ash, that the Germans were unable to remove it to the Reich, and sold it to local farmers as a fertilizer. "How could you use the human ash in their fields? - I asked one Pole, to which he replied: "What could we do? We needed something to eat! "I was particularly struck by the mountain consisting of bales of human hair, which was sorted by quality. Babies' hair is softer, and it was used for stuffing pillows, the hair of adults was used for .manufacturing mattresses. I could not look without tears at the mountains of baby underclothes, shoes, toys that were taken from the children, and the baby carriages.
On the next day, 28 January, a major government commission investigating Nazi crimes arrived at the camp in two Douglas airplanes. It consisted of prominent military leaders, political figures, a large group of doctors, and well-known writers. Among the latter, we recognized Alexei Tolstoy and Ilya Ehrenburg. The Commission immediately began its work [including] ascertaining the scope of the Holocaust that the Jews had suffered."