Boris Tartakovskii was born in 1911 in the town of Meshcherskoe near Moscow. He served his regular army service in the Red Army from 1933 to 1935 and then received the rank of junior lieutenant. In 1941 he was a graduate student in the faculty of history at Moscow State University. He volunteered for a destruction battalion during the first days of the Soviet-German war. This kind of para-military formation, that was subordinate to the Soviet security agency the NKVD, consisted of college students and older high school pupils. Their assignments included rooting out army deserters, panic-mongers, subversives and tearing up German propaganda leaflets, etc. In September 1941 Tartakovskii was drafted into the Red Army. Since he had a fair knowledge of German, he began to serve as an instructor for propaganda among enemy forces in the 7th Infantry Brigade that in 1942-1943 was fighting in the Northern Caucasus. In battle on September 17, 1942 at Ishcherskaia Station, he replaced the battalion commissar when Red Army forces were attempting to repel a German tank attack. For his role in this battle in 1943 Tartakovskii was awarded the Order of the Red Star. In the spring of 1944 with the rank of captain, he began serving as an instructor in anti-enemy propaganda in the political administration of the 38th Army, which was fighting to liberate Ukraine. The head of that political department then was Major General David Ortenberg, well-known former editor of the main army newspaper Krasnaia zvezda (“Red Star”), who was removed from that post in 1943. Tartakovskii’s responsibilities included working at a radio station very close to the front lines, interrogating prisoners of war, reading German letters found in trenches and dugouts, and preparing leaflets and radio broadcasts. During the war Tartakovskii kept a journal, excerpts from which show how his ethnic consciousness altered and how concern with the fate of Jews became more prominent in his journal. During the first part of the war he was basically indifferent in regard to this topic, but in 1944, after having seen with his own his “a Ukraine without Jews,” as Vasily Grossman depicted it, Tartakovskii reacted quite differently. One of the “trophies” he brought home from the front was a Star of David made of yellow material that had been given to him as a Jewish Soviet officer by a former inmate of the ghetto of Zhmerinka.
In the summer of 1944 he was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War, 2nd class. Tartakovskii ended the war in Czechoslovakia.
For some time after the war he served with the Soviet forces in East Germany. In the 1950s he joined the staff of the main Soviet ideological institution, Moscow’s Institute of Marxism-Leninism, that was affiliated with the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.