Forget Roswell, JFK, and even 9/11. Holocaust denial is arguably the biggest conspiracy theory ever devised. It's so feared that it's actually been outlawed in several countries. And, since it's been in the news these past few weeks, there's no better time to delve into this extremely sensitive issue.
While they were in power in the 1930s and '40s, the Nazis systematically exterminated approximately six million Jewish people using various methods, including gas chambers. This is the widely held belief that most respected scholars adhere to and that we're taught in schools. Holocaust deniers (or, as they prefer, Holocaust revisionists) question the validity of several accepted notions regarding this point of history.
Many deny that the Nazis used gas chambers or that they ever had what's called "The Final Solution" -- an official policy that stated their intention to exterminate the Jewish people. Although deniers/revisionists admit that many Jews died during this time, they say that the number of dead is closer to one million, not six million. "Lying about Hitler," by Richard J. Evans, spells out the basic tenets of Holocaust denial. According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitism fuels this movement.
When the Catholic Church recently lifted an excommunication on a holocaust-denying bishop, Richard Williamson, Jewish groups became incensed. The excommunication (and its revocation) didn't have to do with his Holocaust views and (according to this Yahoo story) the Vatican says Williamson has no "canonical function" in the church. Nevertheless, the groups are upset at the choice to lift excommunication, especially so soon after Williamson reiterated his views in an interview.
This recent scandal has brought up difficult questions about how to deal with those who deny the horrors of the Holocaust. In many countries, (such as Germany, Austria, Belgium and Poland) public Holocaust denial is a crime. Many argue, however, that these laws encroach too far on free speech.