Yakov Mikhailovich Berger, who later adopted the name Jacques Bergier, was born in Odessa in 1912. Mikhail Berger, his father, was a Jewish wholesale grocer and his mother, Etlia Krzeminiecka, was a former revolutionary. A grand-uncle of his was a miraculous rabbi and in his autobiography, Je ne suis pas une légende, Bergier says he was a cousin of nuclear physicist George Gamow and of a certain Anatoly, a member of the firing squad that shot Tsar Nicholas II.
He was a gifted child: in his autobiography he said that at two he read his first newspaper and at four he could easily read Russian, French and Hebrew. He was a speed reader (until the end of his life he could read 4 to 10 books per day) and had an eidetic memory. He was a vivacious child, and he told fabulous sounding stories of discussing strategy with generals as well as talking with tramps, prostitutes, political activists and businessmen in the streets of Odessa. He never went to school but had private tutors.
In 1920 the Russian Civil War forced the Berger family to take refuge in Etlia's homeland in Krzemeiniec, Northwestern Ukraine. Young Yakov Mikhailovich went to a Talmudic school and he became enthralled with the study of the Kabbalah and its mysteries. Besides that he studied mathematics, physics, German and English. He read everything he could lay hands on, but his favourite reading was science fiction.
In 1925 the family moved to France. He was a pupil at the Lycée Saint Louis, then he studied mathematics, applied and general chemistry at the Sorbonne and finally he went to the École Nationale Supérieure de Chimie, where he graduated as chemical engineer.
From 1934 to 1939 he was an assistant to the noted French atomic physicist André Helbronner who was killed by the Gestapo towards the end of World War II. According to Walter Lang, Bergier was approached by Fulcanelli with a message for Helbronner about man's possible use of nuclear weapons. The meeting took place in June 1937 in a laboratory of the Gas Board in Paris.