In “1984,” George Orwell’s prescient 1948 novel of a totalitarian state, one of the most haunting images is that of the memory hole. Within every room of the government’s Ministry of Truth is an orifice that sucks inconvenient documents into a furnace, where they are incinerated so that not even ash remains. Memory is destroyed. Written documents are the great enemy of politically repressive regimes, which have always sought to censor personal accounts of human suffering and to punish those who dare to write them.
In 1983, the Romanian secret police, the Securitate, arrested a protester named Ion Bugan for handing out leaflets and demonstrating against the Ceausescu regime. He was sentenced to prison; his family was subjected to continuous surveillance, harassment, starvation, and shunning; his wife was forced by the state to divorce him. After his release five years later, the round-the-clock surveillance continued, along with nightly death threats. Eventually the family left the country, finding asylum in the United States.