A native of Hungary, at 14 years old Rubin was sent to Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. The commandant told him he would never get out alive, but 14 months later — on May 5, 1945 — the camp was liberated by American soldiers. His father died in Buchenwald, and his mother died in Auschwitz. Still, Rubin was so grateful to his rescuers that he vowed to move to the United States and join the U.S. Army. He got to the U.S. in 1948, but wasn’t allowed to join the Army until his English was good enough; that happened in 1950, just in time for the Korean war. His commander told him he didn’t have to go into combat because he was not an American citizen. “I cannot leave my fellow brothers,” he replied. He was shipped out, but his first enemy was on his own side: his sergeant was an anti-Semite, who assigned Rubin to the most dangerous jobs he could “in hopes of getting him killed,” fellow troops later said under oath. In one, Rubin single-handedly held off a wave of North Korean soldiers, and then found his troops a safe escape route. Rubin was recommended four times for a Medal of Honor, but his sergeant refused to file the required paperwork, and there was no follow-up because the commanders who recommended him were killed in action.
In late October 1950, Rubin was wounded and captured, and spent 30 months in a Chinese prisoner of war camp. “No one wanted to help anyone” in the camp, said Sgt. Leo A. Cormier Jr. “Everybody was for himself” — except Rubin, who had plenty of experience getting by in terrible conditions. He would sneak out of camp Hogan’s Heroes style to steal food from the Chinese and North Korean supply depots. He knew full well that if caught, he’d be shot. “He shared the food evenly among the GIs,” Cormier said. “He also took care of us, nursed us, carried us to the latrine.” His good deeds, “he told us were mitzvahs in the Jewish tradition.” Cormier explained Rubin “was a very religious Jew and helping his fellow men was the most important thing to him.” His fellow POWs say Rubin saved the lives of at least 40 American soldiers. But because of discrimination, Rubin still didn’t get a Medal of Honor until September 23, 2005, when President George W. Bush made the presentation. “When Corporal Rubin’s battalion found itself ambushed by thousands of Chinese troops,” Bush related at the White House ceremony, “the Americans’ firepower soon dwindled to a single machine gun. The weapon was in an exposed position and three soldiers had already died manning it. That was when Corporal Rubin stepped forward. He fought until his ammunition was gone. He was badly wounded, captured and sent to a P.O.W. camp.” By the time he got his medal, Rubin was 76 years old; he was the only Jewish soldier to be awarded the Medal of Honor for action in Korea. “I have a mom who was very religious,” Rubin said in the documentary Finnegan’s War. “And she always teach us: ‘There is one God, and we are all brothers and sisters. You have to take care of your brothers, and save them.’ To her, to save somebody’s life is the greatest honor. And I did that.” Corporal “Ted” Rubin died in his Southern California home on December 5. He was 86.