Art: Modern Gothic

On the long list of artists to suffer the fatal derision of Nazi Germany was one of Germany's greatest sculptors, Ernst Barlach. He died in 1938, shunned by his townspeople, condemned (falsely) as a Jew and Bolshevik. His work, based on the centuries-old tradition of wood carving and German Gothic art, was banned as "degenerate" and typical of "the passive Slav soul."

Since World War II, the very quality the Nazis detested most in Barlach's work —its expression of human striving and religious aspiration—has restored his work to the forefront of German 20th century art. In Germany today his war memorials in...