Book Review: Single Handed – The inspiring true story of Tibor “Teddy” Rubin


Tibor “Teddy” Rubin as a US soldier                        

By Gideon

I never heard of Tibor Rubin before I accidentally purchase the book, nor did I know much about the Korea War. The book was an eye opener on many levels. It taught me what it was like to be a teenager in a Nazi death camp. What it was like to be a soldier in the US army during the Korean War. What it was like to be a prisoner of war in the Chinese POW camp. What it was like to be discriminate against by your superior in a war zone, just because you were Jewish. What it was like to be mentally stronger than all the people who wanted you dead and survive despite their efforts, and how to do that while maintaining your sense of humor.

Tibor “Teddy” Rubin didn’t just survive, he ended the war as a hero; a person who put his life on the line many times to in order to save others.

Tibor “Teddy” Rubin is the 14th Jewish recipient  of the Congressional Medal  of Honor. He received the medal for his service during the Korean War. The book Single Handed by Daniel Cohen describes the life of Tibor Rubin, the Hungarian Jew who survived the Nazi death camp Mauthausen, his arrival in New York after the war, than almost immediately after, volunteered to the US army to “repay his debt” to the country that saved his life, just to find himself fighting the Korean war as an American soldier. 

The book doesn’t end there. It also describes the 25 years long struggle that followed it, to force the US army to recognize Tibor’s selfless sacrifices and bravery and award him the medal of which two different company commanders, on two separate occasions, recommended him for.

The official description of the events that led to the medal awarding ceremony is as follows: 

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Corporal Tibor Rubin distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism during the period from July 23, 1950, to April 20, 1953, while serving as a rifleman with Company I, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division in the Republic of Korea.   While his unit was retreating to the Pusan Perimeter, Corporal Rubin was assigned to stay behind to keep open the vital Taegu-Pusan Road link used by his withdrawing unit. During the ensuing battle, overwhelming numbers of North Korean troops assaulted a hill defended solely by Corporal Rubin. He inflicted a staggering number of casualties on the attacking force during his personal 24-hour battle, single-handedly slowing the enemy advance and allowing the 8th Cavalry Regiment to complete its withdrawal successfully. Following the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter, the 8 th Cavalry Regiment proceeded northward and advanced into North Korea. During the advance, he helped capture several hundred North Korean soldiers. On October 30, 1950, Chinese forces attacked his unit at Unsan, North Korea, during a massive nighttime assault.   That night and throughout the next day, he manned a .30 caliber machine gun at the south end of the unit’s line after three previous gunners became casualties. He continued to man his machine gun until his ammunition was exhausted. His determined stand slowed the pace of the enemy advance in his sector, permitting the remnants of his unit to retreat southward. As the battle raged, Corporal Rubin was severely wounded and captured by the Chinese. Choosing to remain in the prison camp despite offers from the Chinese to return him to his native Hungary, Corporal Rubin disregarded his own personal safety and immediately began sneaking out of the camp at night in search of food for his comrades. Breaking into enemy food storehouses and gardens, he risked certain torture or death if caught. Corporal Rubin provided not only food to the starving Soldiers, but also desperately needed medical care and moral support for the sick and wounded of the POW camp. His brave, selfless efforts were directly attributed to saving the lives of as many as forty of his fellow prisoners. Corporal Rubin’s gallant actions in close contact with the enemy and unyielding courage and bravery while a prisoner of war are in the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Army.” 

There’s much more to it. The book explains the why and how.

“Filmmaker and critic Daniel M. Cohen provides a riveting account of one of the most courageous heroes of the Korean War…  Cohen describes the hardships that Tibor faced as a Jew in the military. His sergeant, a “redneck,” hated Jews and not only made life miserable for Tibor, but once in Korea, singled Tibor out for the most dangerous missions. It became obvious to many of Tibor’s fellow soldiers that the Sergeant’s animus towards him was so intense that he was sending him into harm’s way to be killed. Tibor, however, had grit and courage and did not complain about his maltreatment. What followed was a series of acts that would at the age of 76 earn him the Medal of Honor.” [Jewish Book Council] “Daniel M. Cohen‘s descriptions of Rubin’s exploits recall those of the heroic Sgt. Alvin York in World War I and Hollywood heroes like Rambo. Even after he was captured when waves of Chinese forces entered the war from the north, Rubin inspired fellow POWs to keep up hope that they would survive the ordeal and return alive.” [The Times of Israel] “Single Handed concludes with the campaign on Rubin’s behalf that finally ended when he received the much-deserved recognition that he never sought. Readers cannot help but be inspired by this portrait of a good-humored and self-effacing man whose inner strength got him through ordeals that most would find unimaginable.” [Tulsa World]


Tibor Rubin at medal ceremony

Tibor “Teddy” Rubin received the Medal of Honor for service in the U.S. Army during the Korean War

I was about to board a 14 hours flight from Miami to Tel Aviv via Toronto when I decided at the last moment before boarding the plane to download an audio book onto my brand new Kindle Fire HD, just in case the two digital books I downloaded a day earlier in preparation for the long flight won’t be as interesting as I hoped they would. I had only few moments to find an interesting book before boarding starts and internet connection is lost for the duration of the flight. I searched the words “Jewish” and “Audio” on the Amazon’s Kindle store when the book Single Handed popped up. The cover seemed interesting enough. The price was slightly higher than what I wanted to pay, but since this was the first time that I purchased an audio book, I thought that this was a fare price.

It wasn’t until I downloaded the book that I realized that I downloaded a special edition of a regular digital book with authentic recorded conversations. (I later found out that audio books had a different Amazon store), but it was too late to change. I began reading the book as soon as we took off and didn’t put it down until I was done. It was so interesting that it kept me in suspense the entire flight. It’s a great book and I strongly recommend it.