He is Hungary’s oldest GP at the age of 97, administering COVID-19 vaccines every day — and he’s also a Holocaust survivor.
For Istvan Kormendi, who comes from a Jewish family and had to endure forced labour during the Second World War, the pandemic is only the latest in a long line of upheavals and challenges in his long life.
He started going to lectures at a medical school in 1941, but he did so surreptitiously and illegally, because Hungarian wartime laws did not permit Jews to train as a doctor.
In doing so he was following in the steps of his father, who was also a GP.
But when he taken to a camp and faced the real prospect of deportation, his instincts for survival took hold.
“I knew that I had two chances: either I would survive or not,” he said.
“I was thinking if I would manage to survive, at least then I could use some time to study while I was there.
“This also has a psychological explanation that these (medical) books created a connection, a contrast between barbarity and medical science.”
Dr Kormendi was eventually admitted to the school when the war ended in 1945 and his diploma, now more than 70 years old, remains in active use.
His high-ceilinged old apartment on the Buda side of the Danube river is the same one he moved into at the age of six, where he holds his consultations with patients while sitting behind an antique desk that his father bought in 1920.
Dr Kormendi’s wife died recently and he has not seen his daughter, also a doctor but who lives in Vienna, since last year because of the pandemic.
He has around 300 patients on his books and plans to continue working for as long as possible — so long, he says, as he can remember the names of new drugs and resolve the computer problems that persistently dog him.
“I have had plenty of stress in my life and despite that, the constant mental readiness and work has kept me in this condition, just like sportsmen are kept fit by training,” he said.
“If I had to say how I want to finish, well, I would say if I live to be 100 years old then after a day of work, feeling a pleasant tiredness, I would go to sleep and wake up to not being alive any more.”
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