‘Vaart vrij’ is a monument in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, in memory of the Dutch trade unionist Edo Fimmen

Edo Fimmen
Edo Fimmen, the Dutch leader of the International Transport Workers Federation

Edo Fimmen, the Dutch leader of the International Transport Workers Federation

A Rotterdam dockers’ strike in 1896 led to the establishment of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). Between the two world wars, Edo Fimmen (1881-1942) led the trade union in worldwide opposition to fascism, racism and colonial oppression. Internationally, this earned him a good reputation.

Fimmen declined a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937. A nomination initiated by Willi Fichler, the leader of the German Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and supported by, among others, the French author André Gide, the German author Thomas Mann, British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Rusell and Belgian, socialist politician Hendrik de Man.

Fimmen played a very important role in supporting the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War. He supported the trade union members’ fight against Nazi-Germany that was supporting the Spanish fascist coup.

Fimmens died 14. December 1942 in Mexico unnoticed in occupied Holland. He fell into oblivion in his homeland, in the international trade union movement, however, he remained legendary.

Vaart vrij!

The monument is created by sculptor Ben Zegers. The title of the monument ‘Vaart vrij’ is taken from the German railway workers’ magazine Fahrt Frei, which can be translated into something like ‘Go ahead’.

The sculpture group consists of a reclining and an upright fist.

Edo Fimmen Monument in Rotterdam, the Netherlands by Rotterdam sculptor Ben Zegers. The sculpture group consists of a reclining and an upright fist

Edo Fimmen Monument in Rotterdam, the Netherlands by Rotterdam sculptor Ben Zegers. The sculpture group consists of a reclining and an upright fist

Two municipal information plaques have been placed next to the monument, one of them entitled ‘Vaart vrij!’

'Vaart vrij!' One of two information plaques placed next to the Edo Fimmen monument

‘Vaart vrij!’ One of two information plaques placed next to the Edo Fimmen monument

The text on the plaque reads: “A strike by the Rotterdam port workers in 1896 led to the establishment of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF). The Dutch trade union leader Edo Fimmen (1881-1942) led the ITF in worldwide opposition to fascism, racism and colonial domination.
On the occasion of the centenary of the ITF, the statue was donated to the city of Rotterdam by the Transport Association FNV.
The artwork was unveiled by Eike Eulen, chairman of the ITF, on November 28, 1997, in the European Year against Racism.

Artist: Ben Zegers”

Een ijzeren vuist in een zijden handschoen (‘An iron fist in a silk glove’)
'Een ijzeren vuist in een zijden handschoen'. One of two information plaques placed next to the Edo Fimmen monument

‘Een ijzeren vuist in een zijden handschoen’. One of two information plaques placed next to the Edo Fimmen monument

The other information plaque bears a profile of Edo Fimmen: “The Rotterdam sculptor Ben Zegers made the monument as a reminder of the Dutch trade union leader Edo Fimmen. The artwork consists of two full-length sheet steel pedestals with stylized fists. The monument bears the profile of Edo Fimmen. Between the two world wars Fimmen led the International Transport Workers Federation. Internationally, Fimmen gained a great reputation as a fighter against fascism, racism and colonial oppression. He declined a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. The German SPD leader Willi Fichler took the initiative with the support of, among others, André Gide, Thomas Mann, Bertrand Rusell and Hendrik de Man. Fimmens died in 1942 in Mexico unnoticed in occupied Holland. Then he fell into oblivion here. In the international trade union movement, however, he remained legendary.

The motto “an iron fist in a silk glove” refers to a statement by Edo Fimmen about the ITF.”

The monument can be found at:

Buizenpark
Katendrecht
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
51°54’7″ –  4°28’48”

Map, location of the Edo Fimmen Monument

Map: the location of the Edo Fimmen Monument at Buizenpark Katendrecht Rotterdam, The Netherlands 51°54’7″ –  4°28’48”


Editing and revision of translation (except for the text on the plaques) by Maria Busch, July 2019