Iakov Breitman was born in 1922 in the town of Peschanka, Ukraine, close to the border with Bessarabia (Moldova). Upon graduating from a ten-year school, Iakov was drafted into the Red Army in 1940. He served in Sevastopol, in the Crimea, as a rangefinder with a coast guard battery. That is where he was at the outbreak of the Soviet-German war.
Breitman took part in the famous defense of Sevastopol, which lasted from November 1941 to July 1942. In the winter of 1941-1942, the Soviet command formed a battalion of marines, composed of sailors and coast guard artillery men. Breitman was included in this battalion. More than once, with other marines, he took part in bayonet attacks against the advancing enemy. In December 1941, when the Germans began their second storm of Sevastopol, Breitman returned to his post as rangefinder, this time for a different coastal battery. During the night of New Year's eve 1942, his battery suffered a massive bombardment from the German artillery and Breitman was seriously wounded. After the war, he recalled how he regained consciousness in a field hospital set up in a large cave near the city of Sevastopol. While he was there, gangrene began in his left leg. Breitman was evacuated by sea to the Caucasus and, then, transferred to the main hospital of the Black Sea Fleet in Baku, Azerbaijan. He underwent seven operations on both his arms and legs. The surgeons were unable to save his gangrenous left leg, which was amputated in November 1943.
Breitman also recalled that, when he was in the Baku hospital and his hands had partially healed, he asked for a violin. When this request was fulfilled, Breitman played the instrument lying on his back. His repertoire was mainly popular Soviet wartime songs. At this time, the Baku hospital was visited by Maksim D. Mikhailov – a renowned basso and opera singer of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, who was giving concerts for wounded Red Army soldiers. Maksim Mikhailov saw the wounded man with a violin and asked the latter to accompany him. There in the hospital, the two of them performed "Auld Lang Syne," Mikhailov's favorite concert song.
After the war, Iakov Breitman settled in Odessa, where he graduated from the Institute of Technology, married, and had a son. His sole military award, in December 1944, was the medal For the Defense of Sevastopol.
Breitman died in 1988.