APRIL 17: 100 hockey points — at 18

 Sidney Crosby

ON THIS DATE in 2006, eighteen-year-old Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins became the youngest player to score 100 points in an NHL season.

“One hundred points?” teammate Colby Armstrong said. “At eighteen? This kid’s doing something most people can’t imagine or dream of.”

Crosby’s three assists in a 6-1 win over the New York Islanders made him the NHL’s second eighteen-year-old to reach the 100-point mark — Hall of Fame forward Dale Hawerchuk of the Winnipeg Jets scored 103 points during the 1981-82 season. At eighteen years and eight months, Sidney was three months younger than Hawerchuk.

The next year, the nineteen-year-old Crosby became the second teenager to win the NHL Hart Memorial Trophy, given to the league’s most valuable player. Wayne Gretzky was nineteen when he won the first of his record nine Hart trophies in 1979-80.

APRIL 14: Girl digs family from rubble

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Above: Kunsang Dekyi holds her four-month-old nephew, one of nine family members she rescued from earthquake rubble.

FIVE YEARS AGO TODAY, sixteen-year-old Kunsang Dekyi rescued nine members of her family after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake shook their home in Northwest China’s Qinghai province. She told People’s Daily Online that she was on her way to school when she “felt the ground shaking” and saw several houses collapse. She raced back home to find her family’s house on a hill buried under rocks. “I wept as I dug away the rubble with all my might,” she said. “I dug out my mom. Then she helped me dig out my brother and together we found my sister and her son.” It took Kunsang most of the day to retrieve all nine of her family members from the ruins.

APRIL 13: Usher saves hundreds from theater fire

NEWSPAPER REPORTS praised seventeen-year-old Jerome Lynch’s cool-headed behavior during a theater fire that placed 300 children at risk in Woburn, Massachusetts, on April 13, 1930. Five minutes before the rising of the curtain, the teenage usher noticed a flickering at the back of the screen, checked it out, then returned to the auditorium to calmly announce that a fire had started.

Lynch asked the crowd, mostly children, to exit quietly, and they did — at first. Then flames shot up the curtains and around the de- parting children, leading to screams, running, and near chaos. Again, Lynch stayed cool. First, he calmed down the first-floor kids, who made it out with no major mishaps, although 15 would be treated for slight cuts and burns. Then, going outside, he heard screams from the second floor of the Strand Theater and climbed a telephone pole to the roof of the building, breaking windows in order to re-enter the rapidly burning structure. Finding six girls in a bathroom, including one who’ d passed out, he guided and carried them all out to the roof of the theater, where firefighters were waiting.

APRIL 11: A future rabbi’s savior

Feodor Mikhailichenko

Feodor Mikhailichenko

ON THIS DATE in 1945, eighteen-year-old Feodor Mikhailichenko protected eight-year-old Israel Meir Lau by lying on top of the boy as gunfire erupted during the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Previously, Mikhailichenko had kept the youngster alive by cooking him stolen potatoes and knitting him ear warmers.

The boy, who grew up to be Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, never found his protector, who died in 1993, but he did locate Mikhailichenko’s two daughters in 2009. Introducing them to his eight children, 50 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren, the rabbi said, “If it wasn’t for your father, none of them would exist.”

APRIL 8: Patty Duke

patty-duke1NINETEEN SIXTY THREE was quite the year for little (5-foot-0) Patty Duke. On April 8, the sixteen-year-old won a Best Supporting Actress award for playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, and five months later she became the youngest person at the time to star in a self-titled television show, “The Patty Duke Show.” But it wasn’t all a joyride, as she described in her 1987 autobiography, Call Me Anna. Duke said she enjoyed The Miracle Worker experience and cherished working with her co-star, Anne Bancroft, and her director, Arthur Penn. Her three years on “The Patty Duke Show” produced mostly misery, however, which she ascribed to the manipulation of her managers, John and Ethel Ross.

Duke was only twelve when she initiated her Helen Keller role in the Broadway version of The Miracle Worker, which ran from October of 1959 to July of 1961. The play earned excellent reviews and became a feature film starring Duke and Bancroft, the play’s original Ann Sullivan, in 1962. Directed by Penn, who’d also directed the play, the film earned dual Oscars for Duke (best supporting actress) and Bancroft (best actress). Duke thus became the youngest winner of a competitive Academy Award (six-year-old Shirley Temple had won an honorary Oscar in 1935), a record she held until ten-year-old Tatum O’Neal won a supporting actress Oscar for 1973’s Paper Moon.

Patty Duke with Helen Keller

Patty Duke with Helen Keller

The Miracle Worker made Duke famous and television executives believed she could carry a prime-time TV show. On “The Patty Duke Show,” she played lookalike cousins Patty and Cathy Lane, the first a boisterous, rock-and-rolling American, the second a prim and proper Brit. The actress said in her 1987 autobiography that she enjoyed her TV co-stars but became increasingly agitated with the controlling actions of her managers, whom she lived with. John and Ethel Ross wouldn’t even let her watch her own show, she wrote in Call Me Anna.

Duke appeared in a variety of Hollywood and TV movies after “The Patty Duke Show,” including 1967’s Valley of the Dolls and a 1979 update of The Miracle Worker in which she played Anne Sullivan with Melissa Gilbert as Helen Keller. In 1982 she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder; she then became a spokeswoman for mental health issues.

APRIL 7: Escape from Auschwitz

alfred-wetzler-and-rudolf-vrba1Above: Rudolf Vrba (left) and Alfred Wetzler

ON THIS DATE in 1944, nineteen-year-old Rudolf Vrba and twenty-year-old Alfred Wetzler escaped from Germany’s largest concentration camp in order to tell the world about the magnitude and mechanics of the camp’s mass extermination and warn of Nazi plans to exterminate Hungarian Jews, who were scheduled to be the next victims on Hitler’s list.

In the spring of 1944, 12,000 inmates were being murdered every day at the Auschwitz camp in southern Poland, and the camp was being expanded to increase the death tally. Vrba and Wetzler, both Slovakians, had learned of Nazi plans to import Hungarians from, among others, a guard who had sickly joked, “We’re gonna get some tasty Hungarian sausage soon.”

Fleeing Auschwitz seemed impossible, but the two devised a plan in which they soaked themselves in gasoline-soaked Russian tobacco to mask their scent from German dogs and hid under a woodpile for three days. On April 10, 1944, Vrba and Wetzler emerged from the woodpile and began a remarkable journey, traversing 85 miles of German-occupied Poland and reaching freedom in northern Slovakia on April 24. The two then informed Jewish leaders of Nazi plans for Hungarian Jews and compiled the 32-page Vrba-Wetzler Report.

Vrba hoped that Hungarian Jewish leaders, on receiving the Vrba-Wetzler report, would spread the word about Auschwitz, resulting in a mass refusal to board trains bound for the Nazi killing factory, but that didn’t happen. Rudolph Kasztner, a Hungarian Jewish leader, buried the Vrba-Wetzler Report, believing it could ruin a trucks-for-lives deal he was negotiating with the Nazis. Kasztner’s swap did prevent one trainload of Jews from leaving Hungary, but on other days the trains ran as scheduled, shipping more than 300,000 victims to their death.

If the Vrba-Wexler Report saved fewer lives than its authors wished it nonetheless kept 100,000 or more Hungarian Jews alive. After the report reached Great Britain and the U.S., the Allies launched a bombing raid on Budapest to halt the deportations.

British historian Sir Martin Gilbert, speaking on the 2008 PBS documentary Escape from Auschwitz said Vrba and Wetzler were responsible for “the largest single rescue of Jews in the second World War,” and that Vrba “was the figure with- out whom none of this could have come to pass.”