Boris Gutman was born in 1903 in the village of Skrygalov, southern Belorussia. He studied in a kheder (a traditional Jewish religious school), then worked as an apprentice at a carpentry workshop. According to one account, during the civil war in Russia, while underage, Gutman, volunteered to join the Red Army, although there is no documentary confirmation of his participation in the civil war. In the 1920s, Gutman settled in Gomel, a rapidly growing regional center in southern Belorussia. Prior to the Soviet-German war, he was manager of production in one area of the city industrial complex (Gorpromkombinat).
Before the outbreak of the Soviet-German war Gutman was exempted from military service due to poor health. Nevertheless, with the German invasion of the Soviet Union, he insisted on his being drafted (according to an article about him, prepared for the central Yiddish newspaper Eynikayt, Gutman said: "My health permits me to strike at the occupiers" [GARF 8114-1-82, pp. 357, copy YVA JM/26105]). Gutman was attached to the Home Guard and took part in the defense of Gomel in July and in the evacuation of industrial equipment from the city in August 1941. After the surrender of Gomel, Gutman found himself in the enemy rear. He succeeded in crossing the front lines, and was then assigned to the 214 Airborne Brigade of the Northwestern Front. During the Soviet counteroffensive in January-April 1942, Senior Lieutenant Gutman was wounded. He was awarded the Order of the Red Star. The official citation says:
"Comrade Gutman of the 214th A.B… proved himself to be a courageous, valiant commander. Following the failure of the commander of the 2nd Battalion to report to the assembly point of the Brigade, he commanded the battalion. During the defense of the settlement of Kliuchi [in western Russia], which had only recently been recaptured from the enemy, his battalion heroically repulsed five fierce enemy attacks and secured the defense line that had been won despite the fact that the enemy used air force, tanks, cannons, and mortars against it. In the course of the defense, three enemy tanks were demolished and dozens of enemy soldiers were liquidated…. Comrade Gutman, who personally was at the forefront the whole time, led the battle and encouraged his soldiers. In this battle Comrade Gutman was wounded in the head and one arm but did not leave the field, continuing to repulse the attacks of the enemy until the total destruction of the enemy.
Comr. Gutman deserves the state award of the Order of the Red Star."