Yakov Borisovich Kantorovich (1904-1973) was born on November 16, 1904, in Bobruisk, Belorussia. His orthodox Jewish parents, Boris (Borough), a tailor, and Tzipy, were killed by fascists during the occupation of Bobruisk. Kantorovich attended Jewish religious school and graduated with honors from the Gymnasium, which had a 5% quota for Jews.
After the Russian Revolution (1917), Kantorovich went to Petrograd, where he received his college degree from the Dorozny Institute and where he wrote his first and part of his second diary. He married Ekaterina (Katya) Zilitinkevitch, with whom he had a daughter, Yelena (Lena), in 1929, and a son, Alexander (Shura), in 1938. Both children have their mother’s last name, Zilitinkevitch.
Kantorovich then worked as a principal dispatcher for the Petrograd/Leningrad commercial harbor and taught in Leningrad's Institute for Commercial Fleet until World War II. He survived the Siege of Leningrad and was evacuated via the "Road of Life" (ice road over the Ladoga Lake) in April of 1942. He wrote part of his second and his entire third diary in or around Archangelsk (where, after being evacuated, he worked as Manager of Operations, Marine Ministry) and Moscow (where he was transferred after Archangelsk). Kantorovich’s wife and children were evacuated to Ural.
After the war, Kantorovich completed his doctorate in economics and worked in Moscow and Leningrad for the Marine (Commercial) Fleet.