Tibor Rubin was born in 1928 to a Jewish family in Hungary. His early years were filled with love - his parents doted on him and his sister Edith, and the family enjoyed a comfortable life in their small town. That all changed dramatically in 1944 when the Nazis occupied Hungary and quickly implemented their savage plans against the Jewish population. The Rubin family was torn apart - young Edith and their mother were sent directly to the gas chambers at Auschwitz while Tibor was transported to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria to perform forced labor.
The conditions at Mauthausen were brutal beyond belief - prisoners toiled in a rock quarry and faced sadistic cruelty from the guards. Starvation was rampant and death an ever-present reality. But Tibor was determined to survive. His resourcefulness helped keep fellow prisoners alive by locating extra bits of food and clothing. Even when gravely ill himself, Tibor helped care for those weaker than him. After 14 hellish months, Mauthausen was finally liberated. Tibor emerged battered, sickly thin, grieving his slaughtered mother and sister - but somehow still filled with hope, life, and personal strength.
In 1946 at 18 years old, he secured a visa to immigrate to America through the help of a generous rabbi in Hungary who was struck by Tibor's fighting spirit despite all he had endured. It was a bittersweet arrival - while overjoyed to make it to America, Tibor was haunted by how alone he was. With no family left, he set about making a new life for himself. Settling in New York for a time working menial restaurant jobs, Tibor felt compelled to give back to the country that had taken him in. In 1948 he volunteered to join the US Army and help defend the very freedom he had found in America.
Tibor excelled in basic training in spite of still recovering from malnutrition during the war. When he was deployed with the 8th Cavalry Regiment in Korea in 1950 after war erupted there, it quickly became clear that war was second nature to Tibor Rubin. As savage combat erupted around him, Tibor fearlessly risked his life over and over to attend to his wounded fellow soldiers, braving intense fire to drag them to safety. His ESP (extra sensory perception) seemed to alert him whenever someone was injured. The more intense the battles grew, the more Tibor rushed in to rescue the helpless.
In late 1950 during a massive battle near Unsan, Tibor's unit was overwhelmed and forced to retreat, leaving many wounded behind. Defying orders, Tibor remained to care for the 30 injured men, determined not let another soldier die on his watch if he could prevent it. For several days, he worked tirelessly - scavenging food, tending injuries, hiding the men from patrolling enemy troops. But eventually, they were discovered, and Tibor became a prisoner of war, once again held captive by evil forces as he had been at Mauthausen.
Over the next two and a half years in various POW camps, Tibor endured constant brutality and inhumane conditions that reminded him all too hauntingly of Nazi evil. He watched fellow soldiers die from starvation, infections, unchecked diseases. But Tibor leveraged the same spirit that had fueled his survival at Mauthausen. He snuck out at night to raid enemy food supplies, nursed the sick, lifted morale with humor and kind words, advocating aggressively for improved camp conditions with their captors. By the end of the war, all but 30 of the 200+ men from his unit had perished in captivity. Most credited Tibor Rubin with their very survival.
Tibor returned to California after his release determined to live a quiet civilian life after so much trauma across two wars. He took a job at a VA hospital where he could continue caring for his fellow servicemen. But the men from his unit tirelessly petitioned for official recognition of Tibor's astounding valor and heroism in Korea. After years of discouragement, the military finally acknowledged what so many had witnessed firsthand - this humble, kind man had shown incredible courage, sacrifice and leadership under the most threatening conditions imaginable. In September 2005, Tibor Rubin, 76, was formally awarded the Medal of Honor for his exceptional bravery and lifesaving actions in Korea so many years before.
When asked later about where such nobility and fearlessness came from after having endured such cruelty, Tibor reflected simply that liberty and human dignity had been stripped away from him once before as a boy. And he refused to ever stand by silently and watch that happen again to anyone. Tibor Rubin passed away in 2015 at the age of 86, a hero to fellow veterans, an icon of resilience to so many more. His legacy continues today through Tibor Rubin VA Medical Center in Long Beach, appropriately named after a Holocaust survivor who devoted his life to caring for his fellow servicemen.