Yaakov was born on 14 April 1925 in Kopychyntsi, Galicia, to Rivka née Lichtental and Moshe Schuster. They lived in Terebovlia, in what is now Ukraine. The parents operated a fur factory. The family was traditional and Zionist. He learned in his youth in cheder, and until age fifteen, he studied in high school. His twin brother died in childhood. His parents and three sisters perished in the Holocaust.
As the Germans approached the town he lived in, Yaakov set out with a group of fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds, on bicycles, towards Russia, assuming that they would be able to return soon. Yaakov wandered through Russia by train and by foot, working in a coal mine and at other difficult labor, just to get a scrap of bread to eat. He reached Siberia and enlisted in the Red Army, despite his youth, because he looked older. He was captured by the Germans, but he managed to escape and return to Russia. However, the Russian authorities seized him and sentenced him to prison even though he had done nothing. He was only released when he agreed to go to the frontlines. As Berlin was captured and the Allies rolled into Germany, he made his way to the Jewish Brigade, where he received the family name Sverdlov, with which he finally made aliyah in 1946.
At first, he lived in Kibbutz Degania, then Binyamina, where he guarded the fishponds and joined Lehi. His underground comrades describe him as quite and sensitive, but very courageous and dedicated. He fought both the British and the Arabs, participating in various activities such as blowing up bridges and railways and attacking Arab villages.
Along with the other Lehi members, he enlisted in the IDF on 29.5.1948 at Sheikh Munis, being assigned to the 8th Brigade, Battalion 82, where he was the sergeant of a mortar company. He fought in Operation Danny, the liberation of the Negev and the capture of Beersheba. Afterwards, he transferred to the Navy in Haifa. After he completed his military service, he became a fisherman, being one of the founders of Mikhmoret.
He met his future wife, Margalit Shmul, a fifth-generation resident of the Land of Israel and Lehi member, at Sheikh Munis, but they did not renew the connection until after the war in 1950, at the battalion reunion.
After getting married, he participated in various courses, learning many languages and studying fashion design in Europe. He had a fashion house in Tel Aviv.
Yaakov passed away on 15.6.1991, 3 Tammuz 5751, after a lengthy illness. He was buried in Kiryat Shaul.
He left his wife, his daughter Orli, his son-in-law Erez, and many grandchildren.