Harry was one of eight children born to a large Jewish family in the Polish town of Lask, 18 miles southwest of Lodz. The Toporeks operated a tannery. Harry attended a public school in the mornings and a religious school in the afternoons. After graduating from secondary school, Harry helped his family in the tannery.
1933-39: On Friday, September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, and by Sunday German planes began bombing Lask. We couldn't fight the planes so we fled into the fields. The dive bombing was unnerving, like fire from the sky. My family ran to a nearby village. A few days later, my brothers Efroim, Laib and I made our way to Lodz but the Germans soon took the city, so we returned to Lask. By then, the Germans had occupied [Lodz] our town.
1940-44: In 1943 my brother Sam and I were deported to Yavoshna, a subcamp of Auschwitz, where we worked in coal mines. I also did extra work as a tanner, processing rabbit skins for a camp boss. This saved our lives. Sam and I were in the infirmary when an order came to send the sick to Auschwitz to be gassed. The boss recognized me as the tanner and took me off the truck. I went to the boss and pleaded with him to save Sam's life too. We were the only two prisoners the boss saved from the whole infirmary.
In January 1945, with the Red Army advancing, Harry was force-marched out of Yashnova with the rest of the camp. He was liberated by Soviet troops five months later on May 8, 1945.