Last week, an ultraconservative Catholic bishop, Richard Williamson, apologized to the pope for his remarks concerning the Holocaust. Williamson said he accepts that some jews may have died in concentration camps, but certainly not 6 million, and also denies the fact that the Nazis used gas chambers. So, what exactly does being a holocauust denier entail, and how do these people get these thoughts into their heads?
According to MSN Slate, there is not really a definition of a Holocaust denier, but scientists have agreed that it generally means "claiming that the Nazis had no official policy to exterminate Jews, that the gas chambers are a yth, or that the figure of 6 million murdered Jews is a gross exaggeration." Some people even take their denial to extremes by destorying gas chambers, or documents linking back to the Holocaust.
Even historians are still debating about many aspects of the Holocaust, including the exact number of Jews killed. Most agree that it was somewhere between 5 million and 7 million, however the numbers vary because of the "circumstances under which some of the killings occurred." They are in agreement that it was at least 5.3 million, because we have solid documentary evidence, but some worry about the number of Jews who evacuated when the Soviet army retreated from the western regions of the USSR, or whether or not they were actually killed.
According to Jewish Virtual Library, thirteen European countries have now banned Holocaust denial, including Austria, Israel, Switzerland, Germany, and France. In the Czech Republic, laws punish the "person who publicly denies, puts in duobt, approves or tries to justify Nazi or Communist genocide or other crimes of Nazis or Communists." If you are found guilty of this, it may result in up to five years of jail time. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, the United States has not set any laws about this speech due to the First Amendment, guaranteeing the right of free speech, even if it is based on false information. They cannot, however, distribute their propaganda in any way.
The most recent account of this occuring was in 2006, when David Irving, a historian, was sentenced by the Austrian court to three years in prison for denying the existence of gas chambers in his 1989 speech. So, I guess it's time to get the facts straight, or it could land you in jail.