Iakov Treger was born in 1922 in Prużana, then Poland, now Pruzhany in Belarus. He had four siblings. His father was the owner of a cobbler's workshop. Treger's family came from Brest, now Belarus, from which they fled to Prużana shortly before Iakov's birth. They feared a pogrom since Brest was the center of the Bulak-Balakhovich's army of Belorussian nationalists, who were notorious for their bloody anti-Jewish pogroms. Iakov studied in a Yiddish-language school in Prużana. In September 1939, following the Soviet occupation of Eastern Poland, the Tregers suddenly found themselves Soviet citizens. Iakov recollected after the war that, just like many other young Jews of the shtetl, he was initially euphoriac about their liberation: by the Soviet state in which, it was believed, there was no antisemitism but rather complete equality for all. However, within a short time, the new rulers began arresting "bourgeois elements" of the population and then proceeded to the arrests and executions of Zionist and Bundist activists. However, the Soviets temporarily kept open the Yiddish school where Treger was studying, and he was able to complete it (although they closed the Tarbut school, where the language of instruction was Hebrew).
German forces entered Prużana in the evening of June 22, 1941, on the first day of the Soviet-German war. Treger did not see this, because at this time he, together with his comrades Fridberg and Berkman, was leaving town in a small truck belonging to the local Komsomol (Young Communist League) committee. Two of the three friends, Treger and Berkman, succeeded in reaching Minsk (Fridberg was killed by a stray bullet), and then Klimovichi, in the easternmost part of Belorussia. There they were drafted into the Red Army and sent to a military training camp in the Urals. In the late fall of 1941, Private Treger and Private Berkman were sent to the Kalinin Front. During the defense of Moscow, Berkman was fatally wounded in December 1941. Treger was seriously wounded near Rzhev. He later recalled: "I was almost killed in the winter of 1941 … Wounded, I continued to make my way on the ice, stumbling over dead bodies. I walked until I found myself in an ice-hole that was covered with snow [and, thus, could not be seen]. I had the strength to get myself out of the icy water and, while freezing in the wind, proceed under fierce enemy fire, without being able to distinguish anything. I did not hear that a shell exploding close to me. Several days later, I awoke in the tent of a field hospital. So I do not know who found me among the dead bodies, who pulled me out, i.e., whom I should remember and thank. During the following three months, blood was oozing from my ears and my faculties of hearing and speaking returned only slowly. Then, I was back at the front. Again, I suffered from wounds and contusions, and typhus. I took part in the war. I survived. I am not guilty before those who perished, but I don't deserve credit for it either." (Slovo invalida voiny = Davar nekhei milhama, Jerusalem, #16 (2002), p. 45).
After having been released from the hospital, Treger, who spoke German fluently, was assigned to a reconnaissance battalion of his division. There he went out on scouting sorties, took part in the interrogation of enemy POWs, etc. In the summer of 1943 he fought in the Kursk Salient operation and was later wounded during the forcing of the Dnieper River in October 1943. He then participated in operations in Western Ukraine and in Poland. In January 1945 Treger's division (but not his regiment) liberated Auschwitz. After the liberation of this death camp, Treger and other soldiers visited this camp. Treger was shocked when he opened one of the barracks and found huge amounts of human hair. Neither he, nor his comrades could imagine that the hair had belonged to the people who had been burned in the Auschwitz crematoria. In another barrack they found children's' shoes and again they could not understand what the connection was between this "military" camp and children. Only slowly, did the truth penetrate their minds…
At that time Treger did not know that most of his family had perished in Auschwitz.
Iakov Treger began to seek for traces of his family in August 1944, when he learned that his hometown Prużana had been liberated from the Nazis. He sent a letter to the Prużana local authorities inquiring about the fate of his parents, siblings, and their children. He received a standard answer that had been sent to his military unit: "Your family has not been preserved" ("Vashei sem'i ne sokhranilos'"). He did not know then that in January 1943, ca. 10,000 Jews of the Prużana ghetto were transported to Auschwitz, where most of them were killed. Since Iakov's elder brothers Nathan and Avraham were physically able, they (but not their wives and children) where spared by the SS and sent to labor camps. Nathan survived a death march from Auschwitz in January 1945 and was liberated by the U.S. Army in western Germany. He eventually moved to the United States and settled in Massachusetts (Iakov learned about the fate of his family after the war from Nathan's letters). Abraham worked as a physician in a Revier (camp hospital) and was thus able to survive. In 1948 he settled in Israel. Iakov's parents, his brother Chaim, and his sister perished, along with their families.
Meanwhile, after the liberation of Auschwitz, Iakov Treger continued to fight. He took part in the siege of Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) and took in the forced crossing of the Oder River. In April 1945 his unit participated in the liberation of Prague. That is where Iakov Treger, as a senior sergeant, finished the war.
During the war Treger was awarded a medal and in 1946, the Order of the Red Star.
After the war, Senior Sergeant Treger was sent to Moscow, to study at the Military Institute of Foreign Languages, in its "8th Faculty," which prepared officials for the Soviet military administrations in Germany and Austria. However, within a short time the Soviets decided that this faculty was not needed and closed it. Treger was demobilized. At that time, he met Miriam, a Holocaust survivor, at the performance of a play at the Moscow Yiddish Theater (GOSET); Miriam worked for the editorial board of the Yiddish newspaper Eynikayt. Treger did not want to stay in Moscow. He was eager to return to Pruzhany and Miriam followed him there. They married, and their first child, a son, was born in this town, where there remained only two or three Jewish families. In 1952, the Tregers settled in Alma-Ata, the capital of Kazakhstan. Iakov worked as a journalist for a local newspaper, but later gave up journalism and worked at various industrial enterprises.
In 1990 Treger, his wife, and their married daughter moved to Israel, where Iakov's son had been living since 1981. Iakov was active in various veterans' organizations. He died in Carmiel in 2002.