Tibor "Ted" Rubin was thirteen in 1943 when the Nazis began to round up the Jews of his native Hungary. Rubin was sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria; the rest of his family, he learned later, was sent to Auschwitz. His father was eventually transferred to Buchenwald and never heard from again. His older sister survived Auschwitz, but his mother and younger sister did not.
Rubin was barely clinging to life when the U.S. Army liberated Mauthausen in May 1945. It was then that he made a solemn promise that if he was ever allowed to immigrate to the United States, he would join the Army and become a "GI Joe" like the men who freed him from the Nazis. Nursed back to health, he became a "displaced person" until 1948, when he finally came to the United States. He found work as a butcher, but he still wanted to be a GI Joe. Rubin learned just enough English to join the Army in February 1950. He was assigned to the 8th Cavalry Regiment. By early summer, his unit was in Korea.
At Chirye, in one of his unit's first engagements, the company commander decided to redeploy the men under the cover of darkness. Corporal Rubin was ordered by his first sergeant to stay behind to cover the movement. Rubin stocked each empty foxhole with grenades, and when the North Koreans attacked the following morning, he ran from one foxhole to another, firing his rifle and lobbing grenades at the enemy. He single-handedly held the hill throughout the next day, inflicting a large number of casualties on the North Koreans.
Following the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter, the 8th Regiment advanced into North Korea. During this advance, Rubin helped capture several hundred North Korean soldiers. On October 30, Chinese forces that had just entered the war attacked his unit at Unsan in a massive night assault. Rubin took over a .30-caliber machine gun after three other gunners were hit. He continued to man it for several hours while his unit retreated. With his ammunition exhausted, Rubin was seriously wounded and then captured.
He was taken to the infamous Death Valley camp for several weeks before being moved to Camp Number 5 at Pyoktong. When the Communists discovered he was from Hungary, they offered to return him to that "People's Republic." Rubin refused. For the next two and a half years, he employed everything he had learned in surviving the holocaust to keep himself and other prisoners at Pyoktong alive. Many nights, he crawled out into the prison compound to steal food from supply houses, returning to distribute it to his fellow captives. Rubin also provided desperately needed medical care and moral support for the sick and wounded of the POW camp. Later, the Army would credit him with saving more than forty lives during his captivity.
After the cease-fire, Rubin was repatriated to the United States and finally received his U.S. citizenship. He knew that on at least four separate occasions he had been recommended for the Medal of Honor; he had also been recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star (twice)—but as he returned to civilian life, he forgot about medals and moved on with raising a family.
In 1996, Congress passed legislation requiring the military to review the records of certain Jewish-American war veterans to determine if any of them should be awarded the Medal of Honor. Rubin's case was one of those reopened; the evidence of his bravery astonished the reviewers. On September 23, 2005, he was awarded the medal in a White House ceremony presided over by President George W. Bush.