Two Charlotte doctors, healers by trade, recoiled at the sights of Nazis -- including Nazi doctors -- systematically torturing, starving, shooting and gassing men, women and children.
Dr. Larry Fleishman and Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown are among the 40-plus interfaith tourists who have spent the last week visiting sacred sites in Israel.
And Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, where members of Temple Beth El and Myers Park Baptist came Sunday, is among Israel's most sacred, if heart-crushing, sites. It chronicles the murder of 6 million Jews by Hitler's "death factory," as one sign called it.
Fleishman, who is Jewish and attends Temple Beth El, has visited the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington. But he said he found Yad Vashem -- Israel's Holocaust History Museum -- more affecting.
"Maybe it was going through with the group, maybe it was the time of my life," said Fleishman, 56, who is on the tour with his wife Patricia Fleishman. "You could see some of their stories: a child, an accomplished artist -- all slaughtered like we slaughter cattle or chickens . . . It brought it home to me."
Garmon-Brown, who's Christian and a member of Myers Park Baptist, had never before walked through such a place, with images and stories she called "horrific and difficult to understand."
"As I looked at the children, looked at the women, looked at the level of starvation," she said, "it was more than I could bear. And my response was just to weep."
She was hardly alone.
"It's really OK to cry -- especially here," Doron Harel, the group's popular Israeli tour guide from Mabat Platinum Touring Services, told them near the entrance.
Launched in 1953 by an act of the Knesset, Yad Vashem is responsible for preserving the record of the Shoah -- translated as the "Catastrophe."
Many non-Jews kept silent or even collaborated in the mass murder. But there were heroes. On the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations, Harel pointed to the tree planted to honor Oskar Schindler, whose story of sheltering Jews during World War II was told in Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List."
Inside the crowded, but solemn museum, members of the two local houses of worship listened on earpieces as Harel set the scene at many of the stops.
"You have to leave your home: The enemy is coming and they will kill you," he said as old black-and-white footage showed European Jews enjoying their everyday lives one moment and fleeing with the bare necessities the next. "What will you take? You don't know how long the war will last. People just grabbed whatever they could."
Looking through a glass case at hundreds, perhaps thousands of the victims' once fashionable or sturdy shoes, Harel iinvited the Charlotteans to "find a shoe your size. The person murdered was probably your size."
Six million Jews gone. "Think about how many Albert Einsteins we would have?" Harel spoke into their ears.
Near the end, they moved into the Hall of Faces. Many of the pictured Holocaust victims smiled for the camera in these portraits taken before the war..
"Look at all these people who were murdered," said Harel, who has guided Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups through the museum. "Children and young couples. Orthodox (Jews), secular (Jews)."
But his last word, as they moved to the exit, was an uplifting one. "Now we go out to the light of Israel," Harel said, naming the country where many Holocaust survivors and their offspring found a home. "The future is bright, I promise you."
-- Tim Funk