The renowned Soviet Russian theater and movie actor, puppeteer, and reciter Zinovii Gerdt was born in 1916 as Zalman Khrapinovich in Sebezh, western Russia. His pious father Afroim (Ephraim) changed his profession more than once. He was a clerk in a drapery shop, then a salesman and, later, had a grocery. Young Zalman studied at a Yiddish school and at the age of thirteen published poems on collectivization in a Yiddish newspaper for children. In 1932, he moved to Moscow, where he worked as an electrician on the construction of the city's metro (subway system). At the same time, he began to act at TRAM (the Theater of Young Workers). In 1935 he became a professional actor. He also began a career as a puppeteer from 1936-37. It was at this time that Zalman Khrapinovich began to appear on the stage under the name of Zinovii Gerdt. Before the outbreak of the Soviet-German War in 1941, he officially adopted his stage name.
With the beginning of the war in June, Gerdt volunteered for front-line service. In December 1941, after completing a short course for military engineers, he was sent to the front as a sapper. He took part in the defense of Moscow in the winter of 1941-42 and in the defensive battles in southern Russia (near Voronezh) in the summer of 1942. During that year, he was promoted to the post of commander of a sapper company. His highest post in 1942-1943 was head of the engineering service of his regiment (with the rank of senior lieutenant).
In February 1943 near Belgorod (southern Russia), Gerdt was seriously wounded by a shell. He underwent eleven operations and was trying to accept the inevitability of the amputation of one of his legs. However, the surgeons succeeded in preserving the damaged leg, which emerged 8 centimeters shorter than his healthy le. As a result, Gerdt limped for the rest of his life.
Despite having to limp, Gerdt did not abandon the theater. He worked at the Central Puppet Theater in Moscow but also continued to act in the theater, cinema, and television. .
During the war, Gerdt did not receive any military awards. He was awarded the Order of Red Star only in 1947.
Zinovii Gerdt died in Moscow in 1996.