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In an orange suit and wearing an Afghan chain

In an orange suit and wearing an Afghan chain

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/ Simone Golob

René de Groot inspired by Hans-Ulrich Jessurun d’Oliveira

Whether it was a coincidence or not, last week Jaap Cohen, son of the former UM rector Job Cohen, obtained his doctorate with distinction in Amsterdam for his dissertation on the history of a Portuguese-Jewish family. It is the family of professor Hans-Ulrich Jessurun d’Oliveira LL M, the almost 82-year-old legal expert who taught the young René de Groot – now himself a professor of Comparative Law and Private International Law in Maastricht – to look at law critically. “He taught Philosophy of Law and Comparative Law in Groningen. The motto for his students was: don’t just look at how the rules are set up and how the Supreme Court deals with them. Always ask yourself whether you agree with the rules and think about how the rules should be.” With a broad grin, De Groot recollects a lecture in Comparative Law that started out with a full lecture hall. When it appeared that the compulsory literature included a book in French, there were soon only two students left. “Soon enough, that person left too and I received private tuition.”

Thinking for yourself, and certainly not wishing to push your standards and values on society. That was the second wise lesson from the man he almost lovingly refers to as “Ulli”: “Have respect for others.” By now his teacher has become his sparring partner (and friend) when it comes to Nationality Law, De Groot’s field of specialisation. “We are both very interested in it and constantly discuss the subject: how should this law develop in the world?”

Jessurun d’Oliveira is not exactly the mousey type, De Groot grins. “He was and is a very flamboyant person. I will never forget when he had just been appointed professor. I was in the library when a fellow-student tapped me: look there goes the new professor. Orange suit, Afghan chain, we were not used to that in the Groningen of 1971.” Years later, at De Groot’s doctoral degree ceremony at the UM, Jessurun d’Oliveira, who worked in Florence at the time, appeared in a Maastricht gown. “He had borrowed it. But he didn’t wear the accompanying cap. Instead he walked into the auditorium wearing a trilby on his head.” De Groot himself is known as the professor in cape and cap: “Maybe we are alike after all.”

There is one field in which he cannot equal his teacher, says De Groot. “He has an extraordinarily beautiful style of writing, it is a joy to read his work. He is also well known as a literary man, has published poems and written reviews. He proves that a legal expert’s writing doesn’t need to be dry as dust. I learned a lot from him in that respect, although my epistles are boring compared to Ulli’s.” No matter how beautiful his style of writing is, there were times when his outright manner of speaking shocked many a student in Groningen. De Groot, laughing again: “ Then Ulli would say: ‘I think the Supreme Court is screwing things up in this case.”

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