Mikhail Fingaret was born in 1923 in Moscow, where his father, Iosif, owned a medical equipment store. Iosif was allowed to remain in business under the temporary liberalism of the 1920s NEP (New Economic Policy). With the end of the NEP, in 1932 the whole family moved to Leningrad. There, fearing that he would be arrested as a former "bourgeois element" and his family would suffer, Iosif formally divorced his wife.
With the beginning of the Soviet-German war, Mikhail, who had begun studying in a military school in 1940, volunteered for combat. He served as a reconnaissance officer with an anti-tank artillery regiment. In mid-summer 1941 he learned that his father Iosif had been killed during a German air-raid while digging trenches near Leningrad.
In March 1943, Fingaret committed an act of heroism, for which he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. The military correspondent Major Nahum Polinovskii described this exploit in his wartime correspondence for Eynikayt:
"The commander of the anti-tank artillery regiment… came to the decision that he had to send one of his artillery officers in a tank close to the enemy's lines, and from this position, this officer would correct the fire of the anti-tank artillery via his radio set. When the commander of the regiment informed the officers on his plan, … Senior lieutenant Mikhail Fingaret asked to be given this assignment….
[Close to the enemy lines,] Fingaret's tank hit a mine, and stopped 300 meters from the enemy trenches. Having noted that the tank was not moving any more, the Germans attempted, with attacks by groups of riflemen, to capture the tank crew alive. … The German riflemen approached the tank, but failed to capture its crew. Fingaret stationed his men in good positions, and, after letting the enemy get close to the tank, opened machine-gun fire. … When evening came and the Germans saw that they would not be able to capture the men, they opened fire from their anti-tank cannon. Three shells from the German cannons hit the tank, but failed to crush its armor. However, each shot and each exploded shell set on fire the air, that was saturated with gasoline vapors, and the tank became very hot. Although Fingaret and his comrades were stifled by the heat, they continued their reconnaissance work. Fingaret determined the location of the enemy's cannon, turned his turret, and fired one shot at it… then another. The German cannon answered with two shots, one of which hit the gun-aiming device of the tank… Fingaret opened the lock of the gun, and looking through its barrel, fired one shot. With this shot he hit his target and suppressed the enemy cannon. However, the enemy opened fierce mortar fire, and within several minutes had hit Fingaret's gun.
… Without thinking twice, Fingaret took several smoke bombs [that he had put into his tank] and, at just the right moment, got out of the tank and set them off. Clouds of smoke obscured the tank. …. Seeing the smoke, the Germans concluded that the Soviets had exploded their own tank and stopped shooting…. Fingaret ordered his men, under the cover of the smoke, to leave the tank immediately and to try to reach the Soviet positions. After four hours… the regiment's commander met them and was surprised that Fingaret was not among them.
… The night passed, then another day… on the second morning, when the Soviets were preparing a new offensive, then black, with his face and hands covered with burns, and emaciated, Fingaret entered the commander's bunker. He had with him the [tank's] radio set and all of its valuable equipment. He said that, after sending his comrades on to the Soviet lines, in the darkness of the night, he had proceeded to drag those items to a nearby forest and then crawled along with them to rejoin his regiment… After briefly relating this, Fingaret gulped down a glass of water and asked what the next assignment of the regiment would be."
From: GARF 8114-1-99, pp. 460-462, copy YVA JM/26113
In September 1943, in the Smolensk region, Senior Lieutenant Fingaret was fatally wounded. He died in a military hospital several days later.
His sister Samuella Fingaret (born in 1927) was a renowned egyptologist and art historian. She authored dozens of books, including popular books for children on ancient Egypt and world history. Samuella adored her brother Mikhail and his death caused her great suffering.