Iakov Kreizer was born in 1905 in Voronezh. His father was a petty merchant. Iakov's grandfather, after 25 years of military service under the strict regulations of Nikolai I, earned the right for himself and his descendants to live outside the Pale of Settlement. Orphaned at age 15, Yakov was compelled to engage in heavy physical labor.
After volunteering for the Red Army in 1920 Iakov Kreizer graduated in 1923 from military school. That was the beginning of his highly successful career. In the spring of 1941, after completing a course at a military academy, he was already commanding the First Moscow Motorized Rifle Division, which implemented tactics determined by the Soviet General Staff.
After the June 22, 1941 invasion by Nazi Germany of the Soviet Union, during the very difficult first weeks of the war Kreizer's division succeeded for some time, by maintaining control of the strategic Minsk-Moscow highway, in halting the advance of the Wehrmacht. As Kreizer later noted, "… the division was able to hold up the enemy's troops heading for Smolensk, putting the brakes on its blitzkrieg…." For his conduct of this operation Kreizer was the first commander of a rifle division to receive the award of Hero of the Soviet Union (on July 22, 1941); two weeks later he was promoted the rank of major-general.
Starting in August 1941 Kreizer commanded armies on various fronts, taking part in the battles for Moscow and Stalingrad and in the liberation of the Donbass, the Crimea, and the Baltic regions. In February 1943 he received the rank of lieutenant-general and, then, later in July 1945 that of colonel-general.
In June 1942 Kreizer became a member of the presidium of the Jewish Anti-fascist Committee, in which he assumed an active role. Together with other members of the JAC's presidium he signed the greetings sent to the first Eretz Yisrael (All-Palestine) Congress of the "V" League that took place on August 25-26, 1942. That document stressed the longevity of the Jewish military tradition: "We send warm wishes to the congress of Palestinian Jewry that was established to organize aid for the heroic Red Army. Two thousand years ago in Palestine Judah Maccabee and Bar-Kochba rebelled against the ideological ancestors of Hitler and Mussolini…."
During the course of the war Kreizer was awarded many Soviet decorations, including those named after the 18th and 19th century Russian military leaders Alexander Suvorov and Mikhail Kutuzov that was given to officers and generals for successfully carrying out operations, as well as the order of Bogdan Chmielnicki.
After the war General Kreizer commanded several major Soviet military formations and from 1963 to1969 he was head of the Vystrel higher officers' course. In July 1962 Iakov Kreizer was awarded the rank of army general. He was the only Jew to be awarded this rank during the postwar period of state antisemitism.
Kreizer died in 1969. He was buried in Moscow's Novodevichy Cemetery, the Soviet pantheon where many famous people are interred.