Breiner, Sander James
U.S. Service Person
Sander J. Breiner was born in 1925 in Fiume, Italy, as a traveling US citizen, and came to the United States shortly thereafter at the age of 3 months. He is the son of Alfred and Margherita Breiner, both naturalized American citizens. His father was an insurance salesman and he has one brother. Fiume is located in the northern tip of the Adriatic Sea, east of Trieste and Venice. During the Austro-Hungarian Empire it was a major naval base until the end of World War I, and then became part of Italy, and later part of Yugoslavia. It is now known as Rijeka, Croatia. Both the names Fiume and Rijeka when translated into English mean river.
After attending public schools in Chicago, Illinois, Breiner took two semesters of premedical courses at North Park College, Chicago, prior to entering the US Army. Subsequently he graduated from the University of Illinois with a BS, graduated from the Chicago Medical School as a doctor of Medicine, and following internship and residency specialized as a Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst.
Although a deferment from the draft was possible, since he attended medical school, he entered the US Army in 1943, when it became known to him that the Army offered a program called ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) which would allow him to continue his medical training without any costs to him. His basic training was at Fort Benning, Ga. While he was enrolled in the program it was cancelled and the then Pvt. Breiner was sent to the 86th Infantry Division. Because of prevailing anti-Semitism and other harassment at that location, he requested a transfer. He was sent to the 1st Infantry Division and sent to England.
To join the main 1st Infantry Division which had already landed in France, Pvt. Breiner landed at Amaha Beach at the same site where the initial landings took place less than a month earlier, and had to ascent the same steep cliff and pass the German fortifications that his predecessors had to overcome. He marveled at their accomplishments of doing it under combat conditions.
He caught up with the 1st Infantry Division and then participated in its main combat battles at the Siegfried Line, the capture of Aachen, and the Hürtgen Forest battle. It was in the latter, when helping a fellow soldier that it was discovered that his feet had frozen and he was hospitalized. He returned to his unit after the Battle of the Bulge to find out that his company had suffered devastating losses in manpower during that battle.
Following another case of frozen feet, with some gangrene, and another hospitalization, he was assigned to a base with a hospital near Stuttgart, Germany. While stationed there, following the end of the fighting, he received a telephone call from his father Alfred Breiner telling him that he is in Nuremberg, Germany, as the chief Interpreter for German at the International War Crimes Tribunal of the top Nazi government and military personnel. His father had been inducted into the Army and given the rank of General to be on an equal rank with the chief interpreters of Russia, England and France. Pvt. Sander Breiner was able to obtain a pass to leave his base, but Nuremberg was off limits. He hitchhiked towards Nuremberg and through the assistance of a Captain who gave him a ride, as well as the local MP (Military Police) was able to visit his father who was living in heavily protected housing.
Alfred Breiner was born in Graz, Austria, attended local schooling including a classical Gymnasium (combination Jr. and Sr. High School) where classical Latin and Greek, and modern languages were taught. He then worked in the family hotel and other hotels and acquired the knowledge of several languages. Sander Breiner believes that his father’s fluency in German and knowledge of other languages was the reason for his selection as the chief interpreter for the US.
During his visit with his father he inquired on what was happening at the trial. His father responded that it was too much for Sander to handle. Even though Sander objected and tried to convince his father that as a combat seasoned soldier he could handle anything, however, his father would not offer any information. Even after both had returned to the US, his father would not tell any details of the trial, except to state that all of the defendants claimed that they were innocent and that the atrocities were performed by personnel under them.
Dr. Breiner is not aware of any books, articles, or papers that his father wrote about his activities at the Nuremberg trials nor is he aware of any publications or documents that mention his father’s involvement. He attributes this to the face that his father never sought attention or recognition for his actions, even before the war when he was active in trying to expose the German American Bund, a pro-Nazi organization.
During the interview Dr. Breiner describes what combat conditions are really like, as opposed to how they are being portrayed. He also describes the early steps in his professional career that has led to his present eminence in the field of Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis.
Date of Interview: December 12, 2011
Length of Interview: 58 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Hans Weinmann