When Elie and his father encounter Stein in Night by Elie Wiesel, why does Elie lie to him?

Elie lies to Stein about his family to brighten his spirit and offer him false hope, which will motivate him to continue living. Elie recognizes the importance of hope and realizes that Stein's family is the only thing keeping him alive. Elie sympathizes with his desperate, uncertain situation and offers Stein false hope because he knows it will benefit him in the short term. Eventually, Stein discovers the truth, loses hope, and gives up on life.

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Elie lies to Stein to keep Stein’s spirits up. In a situation as shocking as the concentration camps, Elie believes that offering false hope is better than telling the truth, as the truth will devastate Stein.

The reason for Stein’s visit is his desire to find out whether Elie and his father have any information about his wife and two sons, who had been in Antwerp prior to Stein’s deportation. Sadly, the truth was that Elie had no idea of their whereabouts, and his mother had not heard from Stein’s family in years, leading him to suspect the worst. However, he chooses to lie, telling Stein that Reizel and his children are fine. His lie is rewarded with tears of joy from his relative before their conversation is cut short by the appearance of an officer.

Later, when Stein returns to bring bread to Elie and his father, he confesses that the only thing keeping him from giving up is the knowledge that his family is still alive.

The reason behind Elie’s lie is a deep understanding of the importance of hope in the midst of such a hopeless environment. While he knows that Stein will never see his family again, he also knows that there can be no benefit from divulging this information. By lying, and allowing Stein to keep his hope alive, Elie does the kindest thing possible in the circumstances.

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On their eighth day in Auschwitz, Elie and his father are visited by their relative Stein from Antwerp. Although Elie's father does not recognize Stein, Elie immediately remembers him and his wife, Reizel. Stein mentions that he heard a transport arrived from their region and came to look for the Wiesels, hoping they might have some news about Reizel and his two boys. Stein then comments that the only thing keeping him alive is the thought that Reizel and his two little ones are doing alright. Stein also admits that if anything tragic would happen to them, he would surely give up hope.

Elie recognizes that Stein in a desperate situation and clinging to the false hope that his family is still alive. During the Holocaust, millions of Jews suffered the same predicament, wondering if their family members were still alive and holding onto hope that they would one day reunite. Elie lies to his relative by saying, "Yes, my mother did hear from them. Reizel is fine. So are the children" (Weisel, 69). Elie lies because he understands that hope will prolong Stein's life and motivate him to continue living, despite the horrific circumstances. Elie also knows that the news will brighten Stein's spirit. Stein weeps with joy when he hears the good news and continues to visit the Wiesels until he learns the dark truth about his family. Once Stein discovers the truth and accepts the harsh reality that his family is dead, he loses hope and fades away like so many other prisoners.

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One of the worst things for the Jews in Auschwitz was the loss of hope, and the incident with Stein of Antwerp is a perfect example of that. In chapter three of Night by Elie Wiesel, Elie and his father are among the latest arrivals at Auschwitz, and they are starting to get used to the way things work here. One thing they understand right away, however, is that not everyone who started this journey is now alive.

One day a man we learn is Stein, one of the Wiesels' relatives from Antwerp, recognizes Elie and his father and is thrilled to see them. Elie's father has never been very observant, even about his immediate family, so he does not even recognize the man, but Elie does. Stein tells them about his own deportation and then gets to what he really wants to know. He says:

"I heard people say that a transport had arrived from your region and I came to look for you. I thought you might have some news of Reizel and my two small boys who stayed in Antwerp...."

While he is literally asking the Wiesels if they have seen is family, what he is really doing is expressing his fear that they are among the dead. He hopes that someone might have seen his family, which would mean that they are still alive, of course.

Elie is quick enough to sense exactly what this request is, and he wants to offer Stein some hope, even though Elie has absolutely nothing substantive to tell Stein about his family. He lies and says that his mother heard from Reizel and that she and Stein's children are fine. Immediately Stein bursts into tears of joy.

It is a lie that Stein wants to believe, and he returns several times to see the Weisels and brings bits of bread for Elie, undoubtedly a token of his gratitude for the news--or at least for the hope. Stein grows weaker and thinner, and every time he visits he cries. He still holds out hope, and in fact he says it is the only thing that is keeping him alive. He says he would have no more reason to live if he ever found out that Reizel and the children were gone.

One day a new transport arrives from Antwerp. Stein is full of hope when he goes to see if he can find his wife and children. Stein never comes back to see the Weisels because, Elie says, he discovers the truth. The implication is that, once he discovered that his family had been killed, Stein simply faded out of existence. He said he had no reason to live, and he was right.

Elie lied because he thought offering his relative hope was a kind thing to do. In one sense, he was right, as Stein lived longer than he would have if he had learned the truth earlier, In another sense, of course, false hope is almost worse than no hope at all. Stein came to the same end in any case. 

For more insights and analysis on Night, be sure to check out the excellent eNotes sites linked below. 

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