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Charles King Emma (1921-2014) Papers

Identifier: P-966

Scope and Content Note

This collection is comprised of armed forces material, correspondence, and other documents and ephemera related to Charles King Emma’s military service in the United States Army between 1943 and 1946. Most of the correspondence uses the name Charles Emma while a smaller number uses the name Charles Garfiel. The collection includes three folders of correspondence, primarily from him to his mother while he was stationed at various places in the Army and also includes one letter from the American Museum of Natural History to Mr. Emma regarding a project he worked on for the museum. There are also two undated address books which may precede the war. The collection includes the many Armed Forces Instructional Exams he took while in the Army, one among them on writing short stories. The collection includes postcards sent by Mr. Emma to his mother and other relatives in addition to the correspondence. Also in the collection are magazines, ephemera, patches, souvenirs, and photographs he received while enlisted in the U.S. Army. Contained in the collection are five diaries from the WWII years, with a veterans and an Intercollegiate Zionist identification card within one of them. There are also copies of several newspaper clippings and advertisements and a 2012 draft of a short story Mr. Emma was attempting to write.


  • undated 1941-2012
  • Majority of material found within 1943 - 1945


Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at

For reference questions, please email:

Biographical Note

Charles King Emma was born on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx in 1921. He was one of three sons. The youngest son was killed in a car accident when he was a toddler. Mr. Emma’s biological parents divorced when he was about four years old. One year later when struggling with severe depression and receiving no help from either her family or her former husband’s family, Mr. Emma’s mother took him and his younger brother Stanley to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum (“HOA”) on Fifth Avenue and 105th street. While dropping off her sons, she told Mr. Emma “Take care of your brother.” Mr. Emma entered the HOA at five years old. He and Stanley lived in nine different foster homes until they aged out of the HOA as teenagers. They never saw their mother again.

Mr. Emma was a ward of the HOA during the Great Depression and often the families he was living with had little food themselves. At one point he lived on a farm in Dutchess County near Millbrook, NY. The local school system, having learned he was Jewish, asked him to leave the school. For two years he amused himself on the farm in a kind of self-developed home schooling. Once the HOA learned of the situation they returned him to New York City. It was at this point that Mr. Emma realized “the only way out was education.” By the time he was ready for high school, Mr. Emma was living in a foster home in Brooklyn and having done his research, he applied to the newly opened Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene. Even after missing two years of school, he was accepted into NYC’s most selective and demanding high school.

The last foster home Mr. Emma lived in was with the Emma family (Solomon and Emelia Seldis Emma) in Manhattan’s Knickerbocker Village while attending The Cooper Union. The Emmas were a Jewish family of tobacconists who had emigrated from Russia to Great Britain and then to New York. Their four sons were born in London. Mr. and Mrs. Emma had a business applying family crests to tobacco which they moved from England to New York City’s Lower East Side. Before Mr. Emma could finish his Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering at The Cooper Union, he was drafted into World War II. He had such respect and appreciation for the Emmas that he wanted them to be his beneficiary, but he was still known by his biological name of Charles Garfiel. Thus, he applied for a legal name change and became known as Charles King Emma. Charles's wife, daughter and son used the last name Emma. The middle name King comes from the Garfiel family, but its origins are unknown. Emma was thought to be an abbreviated name of a town in Russia, but this has never been verified.

When Mr. Emma was drafted he was still determined to become an engineer, but he considered a Department of Defense offer to attend medical school instead. Firmly committed to engineering, he declined the full scholarship and ended up repairing B-29 bombers on Guam that were returning from their missions to Japan. Mr. Emma spent a year and a half on Guam, returning to the United States to finish his degree at New York University and earned a Master’s in Engineering from Columbia University on the GI Bill. He had a successful career as an engineer first in New York area manufacturing and then as a civilian employee of the Navy designing the galleys on submarines and aircraft carriers. Later, he started a consulting business designing kitchens for some of the largest hospitals, nursing homes, and medical schools in New York City. He married Phyllis Gluck and they lived in the same Manhattan apartment for 52 years. They had a daughter and a son and Mr. Emma loved having a family. He retired in 2006; Phyllis predeceased him in August 2008.

After Phyllis’s death, Mr. Emma lived briefly on his own in Manhattan and then with his son and his family for a short time in Millbrook, NY. Mr. Emma wanted to return to the farmland he grew to love. He often said his life went in circles and indeed it did. He passed away peacefully at 92 years old in January 2014 at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx not far from where he was born on the Grand Concourse.

Mr. Emma’s story is a United States success story of honesty, hard work, and diligence despite tremendous loss; it is also a story of how Jews took care of their own.

Biographical details added by Charles K. Emma’s daughter.


0.75 Linear Feet (1 manuscript box and one half manuscript box plus one folder in a shared oversized box)

Language of Materials



This collection is comprised of armed forces material, correspondence, and other material concerning Charles King Emma’s time in the U.S Army from 1943 through 1946.


The collection is arranged into a single series as follows:

Physical Location

Located in AJHS New York, NY

Acquisition Information

Donated by Charles King Emma, 2012. Stephen Flax donated Mr. Emma's adoption papers in 2017.

Guide to the Charles King Emma (1921-2014) Papers, undated, 1941-2012   P-966
Processed by Robert Walters
© 2013
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Revision Statements

  • October 26, 2017:: Added folder of adoption records. Updated biographical note, some description, and extent. Tanya Elder.
  • November 2020: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States