29 NOVEMBER 2003, Page 44

Gellhorn in the USSR

From John Hatt Sir: In his letter to you about Martha Gellhorn (11 October), Peregrine Worsthorne claims that she was 'infuriatingly blind to the wickednesses of the Soviet Union, perhaps because she had not witnessed any of them at first hand. . .. [This] does, or rather should, detract from her iconic status as a hater of tyranny.'

His accusations are untrue. As early as 1972, Martha Gellhom travelled to the Soviet Union for the specific purpose of visiting a victim of Soviet persecution, Nadia Mandlestam. A few years later, Gellhorn wrote about the visit in a long piece, first published in her book Travels with Myself and Another and then reprinted this year in full by the Independent. In this magnificent bit of writing, she tells of the persecution of the Jews, the constant fear of the KGB, and how even in one tiny flat she met no fewer than three widows of men executed by Stalin. So great was her dislike of Soviet Russia that after boarding her returning plane she described having to overcome a desire to kiss the British Airways carpet.

John Hatt Sedbergh, Cumbria