The artist Emmanul Shekhtman was born in 1900 in the village of Lipniki in the Volyn Province (now Zhitomir Region, Ukraine). Manuil spent his childhood with his grandfather in the town of Norinsk, where he studied at a heder (traditional Jewish elementary school). The children of the family grew up in an artistic atmosphere. His sister Malka was a poet who wrote in Hebrew under the pseudonym M. Bat-Khama ("Daughter of the Sun"). She would later work as assistant director at the Kiev State Jewish (i.e. Yiddish) Theater.
In 1913, Shekhtman entered the Kiev Art School, finishing it in 1920. In his youth, Emmanuel was an ardent Zionist and member of a youth movement. During that period, he collaborated with the Kiev branch of the Tarbut organization, while working on stage sets at the Hebrew-language Omanut theater studio. In 1922, Shekhtman entered the Kiev Art Institute to study under the primary ideologue of Ukrainian national art, Mikhail Boichuk. After graduating from the Institute in 1926, Shekhtman continued to actively cooperate with Jewish cultural organizations. From 1925 to 1927, he taught drawing at a Jewish orphanage in Kiev. In 1928, he served as head of the theatrical production of the Kiev State Jewish Theater. In the following year, Shekhtman became head of the artistic division of the Odessa Museum of Jewish Culture. In the early 1930s, there was a campaign of repression against Ukrainian avant-garde artists, which singled out Mikhail Boichuk and his present and past students – including Shekhtman, who was fired from all posts. Those years saw a shift in the country's official policy, with the authorities beginning to cultivate a sense of Soviet patriotism, with an emphasis of the Russian historical past. In 1934, Shekhtman moved to Moscow. At first, he could find no employment, and was aided by former students who secured one-time commissions for him. Later, he was able to find work at the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition (VSKhV), for which he organized celebrations and served as a landscape architect. Subsequently, he was accepted as a member into the Moscow division of the Union of Soviet Artists.
Jewish themes were central to Shekhtman's art. Two of his main works, "Those Who Suffered from Pogroms" (1926) and "The Resettlers" (1929), were part of a series entitled "My Biographical Particulars". Another series of graphics by him, titled "Exile" or "Exodus" (1939-1941), exudes a sense of impending catastrophe for his people.
Following the outbreak of the Soviet-German war in late June 1941, Emmanuil Shekhtman was assigned to camouflaging military targets in Moscow. He later volunteered for frontline duty. In August 1941, he fought with a division of the Moscow People's Militia. Subsequently, he was transferred to a separate battalion of sappers. In November 1941, he went missing in action in the area of Dmitrov (Moscow Region).
Three personal exhibitions of his works have been held in the State of Israel. A tree was planted in his honor in the Red Army Forest near Jerusalem.