Tibor Rubin Survived Nazi Internment, Institutional Racism, A Korean War Camp, Plus 55 Years For His Medal Of Honor
September 23, 2005: President George W. Bush awarded Tibor Rubin with the Medal of Honor. It had been 55 years since he earned the medal, but the passage of time was the easiest battle he endured to get there.
“By repeatedly risking his own life to save others, Cpl. Rubin exemplified the highest ideals of military service and fulfilled a pledge to give something back to the country that had given him his freedom,” said Bush in a Crown Heights article at the time.
Born in Hungary to a Jewish family, Rubin survived the Nazi’s, Emigration to the States, U.S. Army boot camp, a racist sergeant in the Korean War, 30 months as a prisoner of war all before the clock started on 55 years of disrespect to his service.
It’s a wonder he lived to receive the award that he so deserved. His story will put your jaw on the ground.
June 18th, 1929: The day Rubin was born, the United States was in between greatness. We were months away from the Great Depression. but the Great War was behind us. (We had yet to call it part I of II.)
Hitler’s Germany wasn’t yet upon the world. By the time Rubin was five, the world would already be on alert. Jews started leaving Germany for other parts of Europe, even the world.
In Pashto, Hungary, the town of 120 families where Tibor Rubin was born, life was simple. His father, Ferenc Rubin had six children including Rubin, from three marriages.
Ference was shoemaker, and he was Jewish. Jew in Hungary suffered prejudice, but by 1942 the pressure from Germany was something different. Ferenc and his wife, Rubin’s stepmother, attempted to hide the boy in Switzerland. He was 13 at the time. The plan failed. Nazi’s caught him.
The Nazi’s rounded up Rubin and his family, then sent them to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. For 14 months Rubin survived until American GIs liberated the camp.
Unfortunately, his parents and sister did not make it. Still a teenager, Rubin was on his own. The GIs who stormed the camp made such an impression on him, he vowed to join their Army if he ever made it to America.
Four years later, in 1948, he did just that. Rubin emigrated to the States, settling in New York, where he picked up his father’s trade as a shoemaker. He apprenticed as a butcher for a year, then in 1949, he tried to enlist in the Army.
They failed him for his English, but he tried again. In 1950, the U.S. Army accepted Tibor Rubin into their ranks. He would go to boot camp.
It didn’t take long for Rubin to find conflict. We were engaged in a conflict in Korea. His first assignment was in South Korea, with I Company, Eighth Cavalry Regiment, First Cavalry Division.
His commanding officer, Sergeant Arthur Peyton, had a reputation for non-tolerance. Whether it was Rubin’s Jewish or Hungarian heritage or both, Peyton saw fit to send Rubin on the most daring missions.
The men who served with him swear that he wanted Rubin dead. It didn’t work. Rubin fought bravely and well.
One day he held a passageway open for 24 hours against the North Koreans, allowing his unit to retreat in safety.
A total of four times Rubin’s someone recommended Rubin for the Medal of Honor. Two of those times, it was officers who made the recommendation to Sergeant Peyton. None of the requests saw the light of day, despite witnesses to the two officer’s submissions. Neither officer survived the conflict.
Korean War Camp
Three months into Korea, Chinese troops pinned down Rubin’s unit in North Korea. Most of the unit was already dead or had escaped. Rubin was too wounded to fight anymore.
The Chinese imprisoned he and his fellow soldiers in a POW camp. There, morale dipped to its lowest. Most of the men gave up from injury, illness or hunger Rubin, however, kept a stiff upper lip.
At the risk of execution, he snuck out nightly to steal food from their captors and fled the unit. He advised the men that his actions were Jewish tradition, called mitzvahs.
At least 40 men give Rubin credit for saving their lives in that camp.
The conflict eventually ended. Rubin received two purple hearts for Korea, but no Medal of Honor.
He went home, where he made a life for himself in Garden Grove, California. There, he married and raised two children.
In 1933, the U.S. Army investigated award-related discrimination claims. Almost ten years later, in 2001, they discovered Rubin’s case.
The military decided he had been subject to discrimination and that he should receive the Medal of Honor.
He was 76 years old when Tibor Rubin stood in front of the president in the White House East Room. The medal he received that day recognized his efforts in the face of war, for actions he took despite prejudice.
Was Rubin bitter about the wait? Nope. He was too busy being a proud American.
“It’s a wonderful, beautiful country. We are all very lucky,” Rubin said.
Rubin passed in 2015, survived by his wife and kids. You can read more about Rubin’s story in the book, Single Handed.