Shmul Brovtman was born in Slavuta, Ukraine, in 1919, in a working-class family. His father Meir was a stonemason. Shmul had one sister. Slavuta was a traditional shtetl with a population of ten thousand people, half of whom were Jews, while the rest were Poles and Ukrainians. In Shmul's early years, which coincided with the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and Civil War, the family suffered much hardship. They struggled to find enough food, and had to contend with epidemics. They all fell ill with typhus, but managed to survive.
Like other children in the town, Shmul attended a cheder. Although his parents were not overly religious, they observed the Jewish traditions, going to the synagogue every Sabbath. When he turned eight, he began to attend a Yiddish school, and studied there until the end of the eighth grade. For the next two years, he attended a Ukrainian school.
In 1933, during the Ukrainian famine known as the Holodomor, the family subsisted on bread and water. His father managed to build a two-room house, which was considered a decent dwelling for a family of four.
In 1939, Shmul was drafted into the Red Army and assigned to the infantry. He completed military courses and attained the rank of sergeant. He became a unit commander, and later a deputy platoon commander. In May 1941, he was transferred to the airborne troops.
At the time of the outbreak of the Soviet-German War in June 1941, Shmul's battalion was stationed in Chernigov, Ukraine. They were then sent to defend Kiev, where they fought until August. On September 19, 1941, Kiev was occupied by the Germans. By this time, following the intense battles of the previous months, only 300 people from Shnul's brigade were alive. These survivors were sent back to Chernigov, where the Germans had just broken through the frontline. Shmul took part in a bayonet charge, sustaining injuries to his arm and leg. However, he chose to stay with his unit and continue fighting, refusing hospitalization.
Shmul was wounded once again – this time by a shell fragment, which hit him in the same spot as his previous injury. He was finally taken to a hospital, where he underwent surgery to remove the fragment. While he was still hospitalized, the Nazis approached, and the hospital was bombed, resulting in the deaths of many patients. The remaining wounded were evacuated by train to the rear. However, the area was surrounded by the enemy, and the hospital had to be relocated frequently. Eventually, the evacuees arrived in Orshitsa, near the city of Poltava, and attempted to move further into Soviet territory on foot, since the local terrain was impassable for vehicles. Shmul managed to avoid the Nazi patrols and found refuge in a village. He was sheltered for a time by a local man, who later asked him to leave, out of fear for his own life and the safety of his family.
Shmul attempted to evade the Nazis, but was recaptured. Upon arriving at a POW camp, he realized that the Jews were being systematically killed. After destroying his identification papers, he adopted the alias "Ivan Ivaniuk," and used it until the end of the war. In the camp, he suffered from starvation, losing half his weight. He witnessed mass executions and realized that, if his Jewishness were to come to light, he would be killed on the spot. Eventually, he escaped with the help of local villagers, changed into civilian clothes, and tried to cross back into Soviet territory and rejoin the fight, despite his wounds.
He led a nomadic existence, concealing his true identity and recent experiences. He worked on collective farms (kolkhozes). Eventually, the Nazis began to send local civilians to Germany for forced labor. Shmul was among those taken to Germany. He spent the rest of the war in a labor camp, building barracks for factory workers. The camp was liberated by American troops in April 1945, whereupon its former inmates were repatriated to the Soviet Union.
The journey back was arduous, with investigations by the Soviet authorities along the way. Shmul was interrogated, but managed to avoid arrest and exile. He lived in Minsk for a time, working in construction. Eventually, he returned to Slavuta, where his family had also returned from evacuation. Their house had been destroyed, but he managed to find a job as an accountant.
In 1948, he married and moved to Vinnitsa. He and his wife went on to have two children. In 1990, he immigrated to Israel.