O, arbeid (1933)

Marinus van der Lubbe

Labor is everything and everything is labor. Martinus van der Lubbe’s mentality remains unchanged even as he awaits his trial in his cell in Nazi-Germany. He remains a devout communist until the end.

illustratie: lees in nederlands

O, Arbeid

Niet de partijen
Niet de stellingen
Niet de woorden
Niet het zijn

Leven of sterven
Winnen of verliezen
Het is alles een
Recht of waarheid
Blijft alles het zelfde
Zonder arbeid is er geen

Arbeid alleen kost al dit leven
Leven is dus arbeid alleen.


Listen to this poem in Dutch.
Voiced by: Leo van Zanen

illustratie: ontdek dit gedicht in 1 minuut

This poem in 60 seconds

It is 1933 and Marinus van der Lubbe is imprisoned in Berlin. He is suspected to have set fire to the German parliament, the Reichstag building. Power is in the hands of the Nazis so it is most unlikely that he will be acquitted. During this time of imprisonment, Van der Lubbe finds solace in his communist convictions. In a letter to a fellow communist and friend from Leiden, he puts his thoughts into verse.

Want to know more? On this website, you can listen to the poem, discover its origins and its author and find out what the poem means to the people of Leiden.

Marinus van der Lubbe

Marinus van der Lubbe

Leiden, 1909 – Berlijn, 1934

On 10 January 1934, Marinus Van der Lubbe was executed for setting fire to the Reichstag, the German parliament building. This fire took place on 27 February 1933, right after Hitler had risen to power. Van der Lubbe presumably wanted to commit an act of rebellion and stir up resistance against Nazi-Germany. The question still remains whether or not he acted alone. The fire was actually advantageous for for Hitler because it allowed him to deal with communist and socialist enemies as well as increase his authority.

Mason and communist

When Lubbe was twelve years old, his mother passed away. He moved in with his half-sister in Leiden, and became a mason’s apprentice. At a young age, he joined the Leidse Communistische Jongerenbond (communist youth association of Leiden), where due to his rebellious nature, he frequently clashed with the board. After an industrial accident left him unable to work, he took off to the Soviet Union where he wanted to experience communism in action. However, he did not make it through Germany.

Death Penalty

Lubbe’s trial started six months after he was arrested for setting fire to the Reichstag building. During his trial, he had trouble getting his words right, presumably because he had been tortured. All other suspects were acquitted but Van der Lubbe was sentenced to death. He was executed on 10 January 1934 at the age of twenty-four. However, this was not the end of the court proceedings as, partly due to the efforts of his offspring, he was acquitted in 2007.

illustratie: over dit gedicht

What's this poem about?

In this poem, Van der Lubbe writes about Labor. It is the base of everything, he writes. The Labor of which he spoke, is much more than just plain work.

Communist Ideal

According to Karl Marx (1818 - 1883), the founder of the theory of communism, it is a matter of a higher class (the bourgeoisie) who possess capital such as buildings, fortune and machinery and who exploit the working class (the proletariat). Workers have to rise in rebellion in order to establish a nation in which the means of production are at the hands of everyone. All other contradictions - living or dying, winning or losing, can be traced back to this class struggle. This is also how the final lines of the poem can be read: the dedication to communism takes over your whole life or is worth dying for.

Keeping the faith

The contrast between “living or dying/ winning or losing” and “right or truth” also applied to Van der Lubbe while he awaited his trial. Did he write this poem as a justification for his actions? To demonstrate that he still abided by communist ideals? Or perhaps simply because he had not lost faith?

illustratie: ontstaan van dit gedicht

Origin story

On the eve of the Reichstagsbrand (Reichstags-fire), Marinus van der Lubbe was arrested almost immediately. Awaiting his trial, he wrote to different people in the Netherlands from his cell. One of them was his ‘best comrade’ Simon Harteveld, a communist from Leiden he knew from his time as a mason. Van der Lubbe had been incarcerated in Berlin for a month when he sent Harteveld this poem. In his letter, he first took care of paying his debts, after which he wrote some lines about the press and communism. The poem followed.

illustratie: ik heb een verhaal bij dit gedicht

Share your story

Does this poem hold a special place in your heart? For example, do you remember when you first read the poem? Or did you come across it someplace unexpected? Let us know at muurgedichten@taalmuseum.nl! We would love to add your story to our website.

illustratie: gedicht in leiden

Marinus van der Lubbe in Leiden

Marinus van der Lubbe was born in Leiden. He returned to Leiden at the age of twelve, after having spent several years of his early childhood in The Hague. So it comes as no surprise that there is a spot in Leiden named after him: the Marinus van der Lubbehofje, the small square this poem is located. The unveiling of the wall poem took place on the eleventh of September 1998, 65 years after the Reichstagsbrand (Reichstags-fire) took place. This unveiling was accompanied with the beating of drums and the singing of socialistic songs. The poem was originally protected by mesh wire, which offered protection against kids playing soccer but also had a symbolic function. It later got replaced with a frame.

Unfortunately, sometimes the frame becomes overgrown with plants which makes it hard to read the poem.

Photo Anoesjka Minnaard


Martin Schouten, the biographer of Van der Lubbe, is responsible for the choice of this poem. As a signature, he chose a workers cap like the one Van der Lubbe used to wear.

The year of Marinus van der Lubbe

The unveiling of this poem marked the beginning of the year of Marinus van der Lubbe; Marinus van der Lubbejaar (1998 - 1999). During this year, three memorial stones were placed: one at the Morspoort in Leiden, one on his grave in Leipzig and one at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin. Each stone is engraved with a stanza from different poems by Marinus van der Lubbe.

In Leiden:
Beauty, beauty, what once was.
Then going nowhere,
Leave it, leave it.
It’s all crystal and magnificence.
Even life itself.
Where to go now still.
But o, everything is Labor,
It’s allowed, it’s allowed

In Leipzig:
No longer high
No longer low.
Not bad,
Not good.
Not evil.
Everything is beauty, and make it so.
In everything and with everything.

In Berlin:
To write poetry once.
I believe in a poem. I believe
About, beauty that once was
And I think, that something like this will be
An unity
By only you
Is everything, what is.

All translations: Natasja Oorthuis

illustratie: betekenis voor een groep

Van der Lubbe and communism

Communism comes in different forms, all of which endorse Karl Marx’s theory of the class struggle. How this should be challenged and what it should lead to, varied immensely. This led to intense discussion among socialists, communists and the likes.

Van der Lubbe and council communism

Van der Lubbe was not a theorist but a mason who was unable to work and preferred taking action over analyzing. In time, he was swept off his feet by a movement known as council communism that struggled to gain followers in the Netherlands. They believed that the liberation of the laborers could only ever be the work of the laborers themselves. It should not be left to unions, parties and other advocates. The first line of this poem Niet de partijen ‘Not the factions/parties’ reflects the ideas of this branch of communism.

illustratie: citaten


I have to do something.

Van der Lubbe about the lack of resistance against Adolf Hitler.

I can only repeat that it was I and I alone who set fire to the Reichstag building. This is my trial. And I want my verdict.

Van der Lubbe during his trial

illustratie: wist je dat

Fun facts

  • In the 1930s, a prize of 5000 gulden (ca. 40.000 euros today) was offered for the first Dutchman to swim across the English Channel. Marinus van der Lubbe desperately wanted to win this prize money so he could use it for proletarian purposes. He traveled to Calais. Unfortunately, his attempt failed.
  • In 1941, the German writer Bertold Brecht wrote the play Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui. This piece, a comparison, describes how Hitler rose to power by the hand of several Chicago gangsters. Every character in this play is based on a real person, Fish was based on Marinus van der Lubbe. He supposedly set fire to the greengrocer, even though it is made clear that it were the men of Ui (Hitler). The trial that follows gets manipulated which lead to Fish being found guilty of arson.
  • Even after his death Marinus van der Lubbe still inspired multiple writers and poets. In 1934, the poet Willem Elsschot, in response to the decapitation of Marinus van der Lubbe, wrote a poem about him:

In Dutch (English translation below)

Van der Lubbe
Aan Simon Vestdijk

Jongen, met je wankel hoofd
aan de beul vooruit beloofd,
toen je daar je lot verbeidde
stond ik weenend aan je zijde.

De operette duurde lang:
van het wraakhof naar ’t gevang,
van ’t gevang weer naar het hof,
in de boeien van den mof.

Veertig haarden dorst je ontsteken,
duizend haarden zou men wreken,
maar je beulen stonden paf
toen je zweeg tot in je graf.

Dokters, rechters, procureuren,
allen zijn je komen keuren,
allen vonden je perfect,
en toen heeft men je genekt.

’t Had de Koningin behaagd
dat je gratie werd gevraagd,
maar voor zulk een vieze jongen
wordt meestal niet aangedrongen.

Lang heeft men geprakkezeerd
wat een mensch het meest onteert,
hangen, branden, vierendeelen
of gewoon als varken kelen.

Toen heeft men het mes gekozen
om je toch eens te doen blozen,
want zoo’n gala met wat bloed
doet een hakenkruiser goed.

Jongenlief, zooals je ziet,
Leiden krijgt je resten niet.
Hitler laat zich niets ontrukken
want hij houdt van die twee stukken.

Holland vraagt nu onverdroten
of je niets werd ingespoten,
maar die vuige, laffe moord
vindt het minder ongehoord.

Laat het stikken in zijn centen,
in zijn kaas en in zijn krenten,
in zijn helden, als daar zijn
Tromp, De Ruyter en Piet Hein.

Moog je geest in Leipzig spoken
tot die gruwel wordt gewroken,
tot je beulen, groot en klein,
door den Rus vernietigd zijn.

In English:

Van der Lubbe

To Simon Vestdijk

Boy, with your unsteady head
promised to the executioner,
when you prepared for your death
I stood weeping at your side

The operetta took a long time:
from the revenge to the prison,
from the prison again to the court,
in the cuffs of the Germans.

Forty hearths you set fire to
thousand hearts would be avenged,
but your executioners were baffled
when you stayed silent to the grave.

Doctors, judges, prosecutors,
all have come to inspect you,
all have found you perfect,
and then you have been hanged.

It had pleased the Queen
if they asked for your pardon,
but for such a dirty boy
they usually do not insist.

For a long time people have spoken
what dishonors a man the most,
hang, burn, quartered
or just choked like a pig.

Then they chose the knife
to make you blush once,
for such a gala with some blood
does a swastika-bearer well.

Boy, as you can see,
Leiden will not get your remains.
Hitler will not let anything be taken away
because he loves those two pieces.

Holland now asks without hesitation
if nothing was injected,
but that dirty, cowardly murder
finds it less unheard of.

Let it suffocate in his pennies,
in his cheese and in his currants,
in his heroes, if there are
Tromp, De Ruyter and Piet Hein.

May your spirit be haunted in Leipzig
until that horror is avenged,
till your executioners, big and small,
are destroyed by the Russians.

Translation: Natasja Oorthuis

illustratie: video

You can watch the trial against Van der Lubbe online.

illustratie: lees dit gedicht in het engels

Oh, Labor

Not the factions
Not the statements
Not the words
Not being

Living or dying
Winning or losing
It is all alike
Right or truth
Everything stays the same
Without Labor there is none

Labor alone takes this life
Therefore, life is labor alone.

Translation: Natasja Oorthuis

illustratie: meer weten

Learn more

This entry was written by Taalmuseum in collaboration with Chris Flinterman. The translation into English is by Natasja Oorthuis. The following publications were consulted:

  • Bos, Dennis, ‘Twee maal radencommunisme: Cajo Brendel en Rinus van der Lubbe’, via Onvoltooidverleden.nl.
  • Dekker, Maurits, Roodboek. Van der Lubbe en de Rijksdagbrand, via DBNL.nl
  • Harmsen, Ger. Marinus van der Lubbe, via SocialHistory.org
  • Schouten, M., Marinus van der Lubbe; een biografie (Amsterdam 2008).