It may be hard to believe, but more than 50 years after the war ended, the President of the United States yesterday presented the Congressional Medal of Honor to a hero of the Korean War, Tibor Rubin -- who is also a Holocaust survivor.
The Washington Post reports in this morning's editions:
Rubin was 15 when U.S. soldiers opened the camp at Mauthausen, Austria, and he recalled yesterday that his 14 months there ended with a solemn promise: "I was going to go to the U.S. and join the U.S. Army to show my appreciation. . . . It was my wish to fight alongside them."Yesterday, NPR's "All Things Considered" carried an interview with Rubin -- with warnings of graphic language -- that suggests Rubin's story is worthy of a screenplay, if not a cable-TV miniseries.
More than half a century later, President Bush yesterday bestowed the nation's highest military honor on Rubin, who not only joined the U.S. Army but also saved the lives of dozens of fellow American soldiers during the Korean War. Rubin used his survival skills from the brutal concentration camp to help nurture his U.S. comrades in a communist prisoner-of-war camp in the early 1950s, the White House said, giving hope and sustenance to soldiers who otherwise would likely have died in the custody of Chinese troops.
Describing his life in a Chinese-run prisoner-of-war camp, NPR's Michele Norris reported:
The Post concludes its report:
Food was so scarce that Rubin began to sneak out at night to steal whatever he could find -- barley, millet, animal feed.
Rubin had picked up essential survival skills in the concentration camps. The most important of those lessons, he said, was that the mind could prevail even as the body suffered. He kept his fellow soldiers going through pep talks.
"You just cannot give up," Rubin says he told them. "I don't think the Lord is going to help you; he's only going to help you if you help yourself. You have to try and you have to get home somehow."
More than 1,600 POWs died that winter at Camp 5 in Korea. Rubin's fellow detainees say his actions kept at least 40 prisoners alive. Over the next decades Rubin was nominated several times for service medals, including the Medal of Honor.
But there were always problems with the paperwork. The Pentagon now says that someone in his chain of command may have stymied the process because Rubin was a Hungarian Jew.
But he says that "after 55 years, I never figured I'm going to get it, so I'm very happy."
Rubin said that he stole food from his captors to feed his sick friends, and that he nurtured the weak through the hardest times. He said he knew that survival was mostly mind over matter, and that he tried to get his fellow soldiers to think positively.
"I tried to brainwash them, telling them they had to stay strong, not to forget their parents, that they have to get home and to not give up," Rubin said. "It wasn't easy on them. For someone that young, it's a nightmare. But I had been through it once, and that's why I came through and helped them.
"My mother used to tell us that we're all brothers and sisters, and in the Jewish religion, if you do a mitzvah -- nothing but a good deed -- that's better than if you go to temple and beat your head and ask the Lord to help you," he said. "I helped people because I could."