Holocaust Remembrance Day: Surviving the Survivor, a son shares mom's story

MIAMI BEACH - Karmela and Joel Waldman, a dynamic mother-son duo, affectionately call themselves lovingly dysfunctional.

"Did you always have such a loving yet combative and fun relationship? Tell me a little bit about that," asked CBS News Miami's Lisa Petrillo.

"That's an excellent description. I never thought of the word combative. Yes, that's true," said Karm.

Joel, a former journalist who previously worked at CBS Miami, and Karmela, or Karm, a licensed psychotherapist and Holocaust survivor, teamed up to launch a podcast during the pandemic called "Surviving the Survivor." Here, they engage in lively discussions on a variety of topics.

"We've been accused of this being shtick. People have said that to us. This is not shtick. Actually, behind closed doors, we're crazier, it's crazier and wilder. So we're gonna try to amp it down for this interview," Joel said.

One day, Joel realized that his mom had a profound story to share, leading him to pen a book about her real survivor story—how she persevered through the Holocaust and other challenging times while always remaining optimistic.

The result: His book, "Surviving the Survivor."

"My mom and I would sit and just talk at the table, and I would record all the conversations, and then I would rile her up, and she'd say something that rhymes with duck, and then I would say, 'Karm, I'm recording,' and she'd go, 'Don't do that to me.," Joel explained

Karmela: "I said, don't throw me under the bus," giggled Karm.

The two spent months just talking delving into Karmela's Holocaust experience and much more.

"So, it's her Holocaust story, but it's so much more. It's also, she lost a son, she lost her husband of 63 years in the process of doing this, but I got to watch her with my, the passing of my father in real-time. I got to watch her in survival mode to this day. She's just stayed optimistic. She stayed positive, and I know that she's hurting inside."

Last summer, Joel, Karmela, and their families went abroad to revisit the places where Karmela lived and hid  from the Nazis during World War II. At just four and a half years old, she and her mother escaped capture by finding shelter with a Christian doctor who then took them to a nunnery to hide.

"He was an MD, a righteous gentile, a Croat. And he let us come into his house even though he knew he was in mortal danger. And that same night he placed me alone with nuns. The head nun was a wonderful person, but everybody loved me. So, so I felt very loved there,"  she explained.

Karmela was separated from her mother and grandmother, but they all survived, though her father and grandfather did not.

"My father and grandfather were taken to Auschwitz. They ended up in the gas chamber, and my father was 34 when it happened."

Despite these tragic moments, Joel and Karmela emphasized that they did not define her life. In fact, Karmela's entire family, including her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, gathers on Miami Beach for Passover, a testament to the love she has in her life.

"I didn't want this to be the defining story of my life. And I was very happy when he proposed it because in the very end of the book, I am giving my thoughts and my wishes for the future generations of my family," she said.

Grateful for the kindness of those who helped them, Joel and Karmela acknowledge the impact of those courageous individuals who ensured their survival.

"As a result of Dr. Scherzer and this Catholic nun, there are four generations of us here right now in Miami Beach. So there are people that you never thought would step up to save other people. And they were these, again, these righteous people who did the right thing, and the result of that is a family that's blooming and burgeoning, " Joel said.

"I couldn't have said it better, Joel," said his Mom.

'Surviving the Survivor' is currently available on Amazon and will be available wherever you buy books on May 14th.

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