By Michael Jacobs | email@example.com
From a prewar childhood in Hungary to a brutal coming of age in the Nazis’ Mauthausen concentration camp to heroic, voluntary service with the U.S. Army in the Korean War, Rubin is worth learning about even before the longest battle of his life: the struggle to receive the Medal of Honor his Korean service earned.
It’s a shame that the book we have to tell this amazing life story is Daniel M. Cohen’s “Single-Handed.”
There are technical and factual issues. For example, Cohen makes free use of verbatim conversations from World War II that are at best reconstructions from Rubin’s memory more than 60 years later. It’s an awkward approach to a work of nonfiction.
Those quoted conversations are even harder to take seriously in light of such sloppiness as calling Caspar Weinberger secretary of the Army instead of secretary of defense and counting from late 1992 to mid-2005 and coming up with more than 15 years.
On the positive side, Cohen leaves no doubt that Rubin, nearing his 86th birthday in California, is a true American hero who deserved this nation’s highest military honor, which he was the first Jewish soldier to receive for service in Korea. The story of how he got the Medal of Honor in 2005, 52 years after the war ended, could have filled a book by itself.
That story is one of anti-Semitism during the war and a military establishment that preferred to forget about a “police action” it fought to a draw. But the struggle for the medal, beginning in earnest in 1981, fills only about 60 pages of a 400-page book.
Cohen could have made a book out of the story of how a Jewish boy born in Hungary in 1929 refused to succumb to the Nazis and Hungarian fascists and wound up fighting Communists in Korea to show his gratitude to the U.S. Army for liberating him. But that journey takes up fewer than 100 pages.
The least interesting part of Rubin’s story is his time as a POW, but Cohen devotes the most space to that 2½-year period, largely because he has the most complete sources.
The narrative gets away from Cohen. The result is not a good book, but it’s still a great story.
By Daniel M. Cohen
Berkley Caliber, $27.95, out now