Roman Karmen was born as Roman Kornman in 1906 in Odessa. "Karmen" was the penname of his father, Lazar Kornman (1876–1920), a popular Odessa writer and journalist of the early 1900s. Lazar Kornman-Karmen was a socialist and there are some grounds to believe that he visited Palestine between 1904 and 1909. In any case, by the Russian revolutionary year of 1917, he had apparently become disappointed with Zionism. Roman, who had a "romance" with Spanish culture, assumed his father's Spanish sounding pseudonym.
In 1932, Roman Karmen graduated from the State Institute for Cinematography in Moscow and became a documentary filmmaker. He filmed the Civil War in Spain in 1936-39. One result of stay in Spain was the documentary "Spain", which led to Karmen's reputation as leading camera operator and documentary filmmaker in the Soviet Union.
During the Soviet-German war, Roman Karmen was mobilized for front-line service by the Main Political Administration of the Red Army. During various stages of the war, he headed filming groups of the Central and Western Fronts, and then of the 2nd Ukrainian Front. His footage was used not only in his own films (such as "The Defeat of German Troops near Moscow," that was screened in the USA, and "Leningrad in the Fight", both 1942, and "The Battle of Orel," 1943), but also in films by other cinematographers. In February 1943, Karmen filmed the surrender of Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus at Stalingrad. In the night from 8 to 9 May 1945 in Berlin, Karmen filmed the signing of the unconditional surrender by Germany (shown in the film "Berlin", 1945). In 1946 he made the film "The Judgment of the Peoples" about the Nuremberg trials.
In 1944, Karmen was awarded the Order of the Red Banner (he received other honors both before and after the Soviet-German war). The text of his citation for the Order of the Red Banner notes that many frames of films were shot by Karmen under enemy fire. Karmen finished the war with the rank of major.
After the war, Karmen made some more documentaries about the Soviet-German war. He died in 1978.
Jewish topics did not appear in the wartime and postwar films by Karmen, e.g. after the war, he filmed in Vietnam, India and South America ("Vietnam", 1955; "The Morning of India", 1956; "The Burning Island", 1961; "Grenada, Grenada, Grenada of Mine ...", 1968; "Corvalan's Heart", 1975). His heroes were leaders of the international Communist movement and revolutionary leaders, including Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Salvador Allende, and Luis Corvalan.