STOCKHOLM — On his first presidential visit to Sweden, President Obama drew parallels between the actions of a Swedish diplomat who saved Jews during the Holocaust and the action he wants the world to take to help Syria’s people.
During a visit to Stockholm’s Great Synagogue, he examined artifacts related to Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat and businessman who rescued thousands of Jews from Nazi-occupied Hungary.
On the first night of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, Obama paid tribute to Wallenberg in brief comments.
“Because he refused to stand by, Wallenberg reminds us of our power when we choose, not simply to bear witness, but also to act,” he said.
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Obama is trying to rally the world to retaliate against Syrian President Bashar Assad for his alleged use of deadly gases against his people in the country’s civil war.
Wallenberg is credited with saving at least 20,000 Jews during the Holocaust. He disappeared after his arrest by Soviet forces in 1945.
Obama arrived in Sweden on Wednesday for a last-minute, but first-ever, presidential visit to this Scandinavian capital.
Obama visited on an unusually sunny day and was greeted by large crowds of spectators as he zipped through meetings, the synagogue visit and an evening of diplomacy on his way to a meeting of the Group of 20 major economies in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The Swedish stopover was added to the president’s schedule after Obama’s earlier plans fell through. Last month, the White House canceled a Moscow summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying the ugly extradition fight over former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and a year of dead-end diplomacy had left U.S.-Russian relations so stuck that there was little hope for quick progress. Putin’s loss became Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s gain.
An afternoon news conference with Reinfeldt was dominated by the crisis in Syria, and Reinfeldt, a moderate up for re-election next year, said he believed holding Assad to account for his alleged use of nerve gas in the Damascus suburbs was best handled by the United Nations.