Jules Olitski was born Jevel Demikovsky in Snovsk, Russia (now Ukraine), on March 27, 1922, into the family of Jevel and Anna (Zarnitsky) Demikovsky. His Bolshevik father was executed by the White Russian army a few months before his birth. In 1923 his mother and grandmother brought him to the United States, where the family started a new life in Brooklyn, New York. His mother remarried in 1926, and he took the surname of his mother's new husband, Hyman Olitsky. He changed the spelling of his name later in life after it was misprinted in a clerical error.