Matvei Gorlovskii was born in 1896 in the village of Tatarsk, near Liubavichi, in western Russia. As an orphan (his father Shmuel died in 1909), Matvei went to work as an assistant at his grandfather's forge and became the family's main breadwinner. When, during the collectivization of the early 1930s, his family decided to move to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), only Matvei and his sister Paia remained in Tatarsk, where he continued to operate the forge. After his mother's death in 1937, he also moved to Leningrad and married there.
In June 1941, the Soviet-German war began, and in September the 45-year-old Matvei Gorlovskii was drafted into the Red Army. He was attached to the commandant's company (a kind of military police) of the 384th Rifle Regiment, which was deployed on the Leningrad Front.
In 1943 he was ordered to guard a deserter on his way to be punished. The deserter, who was also Jewish, asked Matvei in Yiddish to give him an opportunity to escape. The deserter said that he had a wife and three small children, and that the children would remain orphans, since he was going to be executed. Then he began to cry. Matvei let him go, fired three shots into the air, and then returned and reported that the arrested man had fled. Meanwhile, the deserter was caught again. When he was charged with desertion and escape from custody, he stated that his guard had let him go. Matvei was court martialed, found guilty and sent to a penal company. In July 1943, his family, which had been evacuated to the mid-Volga region, received official notification from a military hospital, that Matvei Gorlovskii had died of stomach cancer. His daughter and other relatives believed that he was killed in combat.
Two of Matvei Gorlovskii's brothers, both with the rank of private, were killed at the front: Lev in the Winter War against Finland in 1940 and Vladimir in 1944. The third brother Grisha, a weaver, died during evacuation in 1941. The fourth brother Solomon, a metal worker, was seriously injured on the Leningrad Front and returned from military service as an invalid. He died in 1959.