Viktor Zalgaller was born in December 1920 in a village near Staraia Russa, 250 kilometers south of St. Petersburg. In 1922, his family moved to St. Petersburg (which would be known as Leningrad in 1924-1991). In 1937-40, Zalgaller studied at the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics of Leningrad University. In 1940, he, along with many of his fellow (male) students at the faculty, was forcibly transferred to the newly established Leningrad Institute of Aviation – which was, in reality, a military technical academy.
Following the outbreak of the Soviet-German war in June 1941, Zalgaller volunteered for the People's Militia (Opolchenie). On July 13, without proper military training, his 167th Artillery Regiment was dispatched to the front lines, to aid in the defense of Leningrad (southwest of the city). The regiment was decimated, but Zalgaller acquired some experience with artillery. In September 1941, the regiment was reformed, and Zalgaller was attached to the communications platoon of the Commander of Artillery, which was subordinated to the staff of the 85th Rifle Division. He was responsible for telephone communications. His platoon suffered heavy losses. In January 1944, Zalgaller was wounded. In spring 1944, following his discharge from hospital, he was attached to another division of the Leningrad Front, serving as the commander of a mobile telephone station. He saw action in Estonia. Then, in late 1944, he was transferred to East Prussia, and took part in the capture of Danzig. He was awarded the Order of the Red Star for that battle. Zalgaller ended the war on the island of Rügen.
Viktor Zalgaller's brother Leonid was killed in action in June 1942. Their father, Abram, had been arrested by the NKVD (political police) in 1937, and went on to spend 16 years in a Gulag camp.
After V-E Day, Zalgaller continued to serve in Germany for a brief time, setting up telephone communication for the Red Army on the Baltic coast. In autumn 1945, he was discharged from the Red Army, and returned to Leningrad. Zalgaller went on to graduate from the Faculty of Mathematics and Mechanics of Leningrad University. In 1948-1999, he worked at the Leningrad/St. Petersburg Branch of the Steklov Mathematical Institute, serving as a professor at the Faculty of Mathematics and Mechanics in the 1960s-1990s. He specialized in geometry, with a secondary specialization in optimization. Viktor Zalgaller was a leading geometer in Leningrad. From 1951 on, he authored a number of monographs.
In the early 1970s, Zalgaller wrote his wartime memoirs, which he titled "The Everyday Experience of the War" (Byt voiny). In 1972, he handed over the finished manuscript to his grandson. In 2004, Byt voiny was published in book form in St. Petersburg, Russia, in a version revised and expanded by the author. The memoirs are written in the "internationalist" style that was typical of Soviet memoir literature in the 1960s. The author does not stress his Jewish origins; he speaks of his inability so speak Yiddish, and seems to shrug off the antisemitic jokes and insults that are hurled at him from time to time. Remarkably, he felt no hate toward the German civilian population (he even had affairs with German women in 1945). However, he does describe his participation in the liberation of some (unnamed) camp for Jewish women near Danzig.
In 1999, having retired from the Institute, Viktor Zalgaller immigrated to Israel. He lives in Rehovot. His last scientific work was published in 2003.