Yaakov Handeli was born in a middle-class Jewish family on July 23, 1927 in Salonika, Greece. He was the youngest of six children; he had two brothers and
three sisters. His father, Shlomoh, co-owned a building material business. Ladino speaker at home, Yaakov attended a private, Ladino-language primary school and a
Gymnasium, where he studied in Greek.
After the German invasion of Salonika on April 8, 1941, Shlomoh and his two partners lost the business to the occupying authorities. During ghettoization in 1943, the Handeli family was forced into a ghetto established in the Baron Hirsch district of Salonika. A week later, they were deported to Auschwitz in Poland. The last time Yaakov saw his parents and two sisters was the night they arrived in the concentration camp: they were loaded on trucks and taken to the Auschwitz II-Birkenau crematoria. Yaakov, along with his brothers, wound up in the Auschwitz I section of the camp. He was then transferred to the Auschwitz III-Monowitz labor camp and from there to Gleiwitz, Mittelbau-Dora, and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps in Germany. Yaakov was liberated from Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945, by British military forces.
Following post-liberation recovery in Bamberg, Germany, Yaakov received military training from Haganah, the main Jewish resistance organization in Palestine from 1920-1948, in Marseille, France. He arrived in Haifa, Israel, in 1948. In Israel, Yaakov served in the army and worked for the Jewish Agency and the United Jewish Appeal (UJA). At the time of his interview, he was married and had two children.
The interview was conducted on June 12, 1996 in Jerusalem, Israel; interviewer: Na’aman Belkind; videographer: Arnon Kedem.