GARDEN GROVE, Calif. — Tibor Rubin, a Hungarian-born concentration camp survivor who joined the U.S. Army out of gratitude for his liberators, fought heroically in Korea and received the Medal of Honor 55 years later, has died in California.
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Rubin died of natural causes Saturday in Garden Grove, his nephew, Robert Huntly, told the Los Angeles Times. He was 86.
Huntly said his uncle never lost his sense of humor despite a tragic personal history. Rubin’s parents and younger sister died in the Holocaust, and he was left disabled from his wounds and starvation.
President George W. Bush gave the nation’s highest military honor to Rubin during a White House ceremony in 2005. The medal recognized him for overcoming brutal dangers as an infantryman and trying to save fellow soldiers in battle and as a prisoner of war, even as he faced the prejudice of his commanding officers because he was Jewish and a foreigner.
“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,” Bush said.
Rubin, then 76, stood by Bush’s side with his head slightly bowed and his hands clasped behind his back as the president praised him, then fastened the gold medal around his neck.
“It’s a wonderful, beautiful country. We are all very lucky,” Rubin told reporters later.
Rubin and his family, who lived northeast of Budapest, were rounded up by the Nazis when he was 13 and taken to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. His parents and sister died at the camp, but Rubin survived 14 months there. American troops liberated him, and he vowed to join the Army if he ever made it to the United States.
He enlisted a year after he came in 1948 and was sent to Korea in 1949, an Army biography says. The Korean War broke out in 1950, and Rubin’s deeds in battle and later as a prisoner of war went beyond bravery to heroism, as Bush described them.
Assigned to defend a hill, Rubin single-handedly held off the enemy for 24 hours, inflicting casualties and facilitating his unit’s safe withdrawal. He later was captured by the Chinese, and during his imprisonment, Rubin risked his life to steal food for fellow prisoners, give them medical help and keep up their morale. He refused an offer from his captors to return to communist Hungary.
“Those who served with Ted speak of him as a soldier who gladly risked his own life for others,” Bush said.
The Army said Rubin’s fellow soldiers and commanding officers recommended him three times before for the Medal of Honor, but the paperwork was not submitted because a member of his chain of command was believed to have interceded because of Rubin’s religion.
Rubin refused to say anything negative about the Army or his long wait for the Medal of Honor. In affidavits filed in support of Rubin’s nomination, however, fellow soldiers said their sergeant was viciously anti-Semitic and gave Rubin dangerous assignments in hopes of getting him killed.
In 1988, the Jewish War Veterans of the United States urged Congress to recognize Rubin’s efforts.
Rubin is survived by his wife, Yvonne, and children, Frank and Rosalyn Rubin.