Marinus van der Lubbe was born on 13th January 1911 in Leyden, Holland, the son of a travelling salesman, Franciscus Cornelis and of Petronella van Handel, a divorced woman who already had 6 children. His father left home for good shortly after his birth. His mother, a chronic asthmatic moved to Den Bosch to set up a little shop. Marinus, it seems, was briefly put in a home for the education of orphans and poor children. One of his teachers described him at the age of 11 as being a gifted pupil.
After the death of his mother in 1921 he lived with his half-sister, at Oegstgeest, near Leyden. Enrolled in a Protestant school, he also was charged with looking after his three younger nieces. He began to work at the age of 14, to take the pressure off of his half-sister. He worked as an apprentice mason and took evening courses. As the result of discussions with his workmates he began to interest himself in revolutionary ideas and joined the youth organisation of the Dutch Communist Party, De Zaaier (The Sower). Of an independent nature and resentful towards authority, as a young autodidact he frequented the public library of Leyden where he read Philosophy and Work of Henry Ford, Marx's Capital and several books about travels through Tibet and China, among other books.
In 1924 he had a work accident on a building site. Two of his workmates as a practical joke upturned a bucket over his head. Quicklime at the bottom of the bucket got in his eyes and he had to be treated in hospital. In October 1927, following the fall of rubble on another site, he was injured in the right eye. This second more serious accident meant that he spent several months in hospital. He was operated on without recovering the full use of his eye. As a result of this, he received a weekly handicap benefit. To supplement this allowance, he worked in one temporary job after the other. He worked in a grocer's, then as a waiter at the station café in Leyden, sailor on a boat between Noordwijk and Sassenheim, before selling potatoes in the street. Of an athletic constitution, Marinus kept fit through swimming. His friends nicknamed him “Dempsey” after the famous American boxer.